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Spiritual Meditations

In Urdu there are many words originating from ‘hajj’ meaning many things apparently quite apart from one another. The root ‘hjj’ means to ‘intend to do something’. The root also implies ‘intending to do something big’. Thus the intention to make a pilgrimage at Mecca is called hajj ‘hajj’. Because of the annual nature of the ritual, the Holy Quran also uses ‘hajj’ to mean ‘year’. The Holy Quran is itself called the final and clear ‘hujjat’ (‘baligha’). ‘Hagio-’ comes from Greek, meaning holy or sacred. It led to expressions like stand in awe of or to worship someone. One thing is certain. The basis of worship has always been sacrifice. In the ritual of hajj, sacrifice (‘qurbani’) is the central act at the popular level. -- Khaled Ahmed

Compassion begins with empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel for another. They who are sensitive to the motions of life, to the experiences of pain and pleasure are capable of empathy. They who have watched the movements of their thoughts, the burden of unnecessary thinking, and the pain of conflicting thoughts know it well. They, who have paid attention to their emotional upsurges, the unintelligent ways of anger, hurt or hate, the irrationality of fear, feel empathy for another who is going through a similar emotion. Hence, compassion begins with attention to one's own life experiences, be it physical or emotional.  Empathy and compassion thus born would naturally blossom into acts of kindness to reach out to others. Well-being of the other is the highest priority for a compassionate person; hence her actions would reflect tremendous intelligence, fortitude and discretion. -- Purnima (Photo: Live life with compassion Thinkstock photos/Getty Images)

Darkness cannot stand the glare of light. But to perceive the full brightness of light one needs total darkness as both darkness and light are complementary and opposite to each other. What is darkness to light, so negativity is to enlightenment. Negativity can never sneak into an enlightened mind for such a mind achieves total control over the senses. Thus, negativity in any form is helpful for alerting, probing as also enlightening the mind of a spiritual seeker. Advaitist Shankaracharya became a jnana-yogi at an early age. One day, he was going towards the Ganga for a bath. Suddenly, he noticed a Chandala (outcaste) coming from the opposite end. To avoid contact he asked the Chandala to step aside but the latter did not heed his request. Shankara was perturbed and warned him again. Seeing Shankar’s anger, Shiva as Chandala replied "O Brahmin! Who are you asking to step aside, the body or the atman? How would they move, as both are inert? Is there a difference then between a Brahmin and a Chandala?" Shankara accepted the truth with humility. -- Moni Mohan Bhattacharyya

Among those who never doubted the messenger during his lifetime was Leo Tolstoy. The restless Russian was especially keen for writings on Ramakrishna, Vivekananda’s own guru. Two years before his death, Tolstoy wrote, “Since 6 in the morning I have been thinking of Vivekananda,” and later, “It is doubtful if in this age man has ever risen above this selfless, spiritual meditation.” The Harvard philosopher and psychologist William James was fascinated by the 31-year-old Indian and quoted at length from Vivekananda’s writings in his seminal work, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” “A very nice man! A very nice man!” Vivekananda reported after his first meeting with James, who called his new friend “an honor to humanity.” He was just 39 years old, but was exhausted from ceaseless work and untreated diabetes. He had returned to India and was living in the monastery he founded outside Calcutta. He excused himself for the evening and went into his room, meditated awhile, then took two deep breaths — and passed away. -- Ann Louise Bardach (Photo: Swami Vivekananda)

 

The Muslims of Subcontinent owe a great deal to this great soul. On my part, I reflect on his work and most certainly on his birthday and on his death anniversary and have been writing a tribute for the last 15 years.  Of course, I have initiated a talk on "Prophet Muhammad, the peace maker" every year in the interfaith circles and Insha Allah hope to organize a big event next year, not a Muslim event, but a public event. These two men inspire me every day. -- Mike Ghouse

Nothing is lost yet, so they better act now before they are returned to God. When they are returned to Him: “On that Day We shall deliver a mighty onslaught,” when the smoke envelops people. “We will indeed exact retribution,” for the play you indulge in and the falsehood you level at the Prophet describing him as ‘taught by others, a madman’, when he is God’s trusted Messenger. when God sends a messenger to a certain community, this may represent a special test for them. Likewise, allowing those who oppose the messenger and reject his message a period of time during which they may persist in their arrogance, persecuting the messenger and those who believe in him, may also be a special sort of test. When a community exhausts the patience of God’s messenger, leaving him despairing of their ever being positive towards the divine message, their action may incur a stern punishment: “We did, before their time, try Pharaoh’s people.” We tested them with prosperity and power in the land, as well as all means of affluence and power. “There came to them a noble messenger.” -- The Daily Arab News

 

To seek God only outside of us is to deceive ourselves. It separates us from our own divinity as well as from the rest of nature. It allows us to see ourselves as separate from the Supreme Power. A Muslim saint has expressed this beautifully: Tu khud hi toh khuda hai — "The Self is the God we seek". Unless we are able to turn our focus within, we will not be able to deal with our external lives in a balanced way. "As a bird needs two wings to fly, so a human being needs the two wings of existence, the spiritual and the material, to lead a natural and harmonious life," said Babuji, the second guru of the Sahaja Marga system of meditation. All spiritual paths prescribe meditation and contemplation. These paths help us seek God within. Buddha, Mahavira, Kabir, Jesus, Nanak and Sufi saints practised meditation as the method to uncover the divine principle within. -- Neelam Sethi

Forgiveness is a boon for the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven. Forgiveness has been regarded the basis of all types of penance and meditation, but in the material world also, from the scientific and psychological viewpoint, forgiveness is believed to bestow physical vitality. It can help cure disease and engender mental development. Jainism says that forgiveness is gifted by the one who forgives, earned by the one seeking it,and is natural as part of our celestial nature. Forgiveness can be earned by request or prayer, pratikramana or confession and repentance, and prayashchitta or willingness to suffer consequences. It could be described as a healing mantra to help us lead a healthy lifestyle free of anger, gloom, worry and hatred.-- Anupama Jain

Are the off days really so precious? Could it be conditioning, not a necessity? In fact it is self-hypnosis. If you work through the week, secretly waiting for the weekend, it is a great drain on your efficiency. People drag themselves through each workday so that they can relax in the evening; they endure the week so that they rest on weekends. They work through the year so that they can apply for leave at the end of the year. If we stretch the logic a little further, it can be said that they put up with life so that they can relax in death! When work itself becomes fun, when you are aware and totally involved with your work there is no need for a separate time for relaxation. If your work is fulfilling, if you put your total energy into it, the work itself becomes meditation. -- Amrit Sadhana

Faith is at the core of human existence. It plays a big role in shaping one’s life. It sustains life and leads one through difficult times. Even those who say, “I don’t believe in anything,” have to believe in their words. The issue is where you place your faith. For an atheist, his faith in objects is obvious; his faith in people is fluid and his faith in the unseen power of creation is ambiguous. However, for a believer, his faith in the unseen power is supreme; his faith in people is inconsequential and objects do not matter in any way. The role is even more visible in the materialistic world. It saves one from suicidal tendencies and helps one see beyond the obvious. When life is based on belief, one follows philosophy rather than getting caught up in revenge and hatred. If there is faith that everything will be fine, then things do work out. -- By Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

 

Rituals signify the milestones of our daily life. Every significant moment of the day is a ritual. It is an unwritten way of measuring our progression; a memory pattern to bring discipline to our actions. The Spiritual masters have captured the human gravity for rituals and have moulded it with the art and science of self-discipline in their respective religion. The noble purpose of each one of them was to bring a balance in our lives and a balance with things that surround us; life and environment. Although Ramadan is popularly known in the West for its culinary delicacies and fancy Iftaar (ceremonial breaking of fast at sun down), the spirit and intent of Ramadan lies in a human transformation in a month long inner spiritual journey of finding oneself in tune with spirituality. "Rest assured," cautioned one teacher, "if you do not taste what it feels like to be hungry, you will not care for those who are."-- Mike Ghouse

 

We are limited by our physical bodies, by our mental biases, and by the very fabric of our humanity. There’s no better time for reflection on the meaning of Jihad than Ramadan, where we ourselves strive all month to at least recognize these limitations, and make partly symbolic and partly concrete attempts to divest ourselves – partly – of them. The Islamophobic interpretation of Jihad, that it is an impulse to domination, often violent, is unworthy of further comment. But the liberal interpretation, that jihad is an “internal struggle”, is equally irrelevant, because what it lacks is a sense of direction. To go Geek on you for a moment, the “internal struggle” is a scalar quantity (like speed), a number in a vacuum. True Jihad is a vector (like velocity), pointing in a specific direction. That direction is opposite to the direction we are pulled by our internal human weaknesses, and external worldly temptations. -- Aziz Poonawalla

Those who are hostile, rarely bother to read the Quran or understand it in its entirety. They quote phrases out of their frame of reference, adding to the spread of Islamophobia. Their bias prevents them from seeing the wisdom, beauty and majesty of the sacred text. In order for the Quran to guide and reveal its actual meanings, it must be approached with a high degree of humility for it clearly says, “Guidance comes from God.” The Quran speaks little to the reader who comes to it with arrogance and biases.-- Sadia Dehlvi

 

The vast majority of people follow the religion they were born into. From an early age onwards, they are reared into believing it to be true by their parents, and many of them faithfully follow it, honestly thinking that in this way they can win the favour of God. Surely, then, you will agree, they can hardly be ‘blamed’ for adhering to the religion of their birth. To think that God will punish them—to the extent of torturing them in hell forever—simply because they followed a religion other than X…

If you look in a mirror and you see an ugly face, are you going to say that the mirror is ugly? The poor mirror simply reflects. If you have an ugly face what can the mirror do about it? If you are potentially ready to be corrupted, power gives you the chance. And if you have an absolute potential — like an Adolf Hitler, a Joseph Stalin, a Mussolini — then what can power do about it? Power is simply available to you. You can do much with it. The good man has no need to be powerful, because good can manifest without power. There is no need for good to have power. Good has its own intrinsic power.  The man who has a heart throbbing with goodness, with blessings, feels no need to be the president or the prime minister. -- Osho

 

Often people equate spirituality with being a sanyasi or use it as a way to escape everyday responsibilities. But spirituality is not the proprietorship of the recluse. When the knowledge was given, you were never supposed to give up everything and go and sit in the mountains. As a human being you are expected to evolve stage by stage. There are levels of dhyan for all the four ashrams prescribed. You start from step one and slowly master each level and then progress, from brahmacharya to grihastha to vanprastha to sanyas. When Gautam Buddha came back to his palace to visit his wife and child after attaining nirvana, he had commented that for what he had achieved, there was no need to abandon his family. He said it would have been possible to achieve nirvana by staying with his family. The Vedic masters proved this in their daily lives. Majority of them had families and the duties towards the families and society were discharged in a much finer way compared to the modern kalyug man. -- Yogi Ashwini

"Kadafi is a Bedouin: You can't change his mind by bombing him. You cannot crush the Bedouin," Martinelli declared recently in the shaded patio of a five-star Tripoli hotel as thundering detonations shook the capital, seeming to accentuate his point. "He is a proud man. Talk to the Bedouin. There is a kind of sublimity to the Bedouin, the man of the desert," he said, slipping from English into his native Italian. The bishop, who has met Kadafi and acknowledges "respect" for the leader, positions himself as an advocate of peace and negotiation. "Bombing is always an immoral act," he told the official Vatican news agency, Fides. "I respect the United Nations. I respect NATO, but I must also declare that war is immoral. If there are violations of human rights, I cannot use the same method to stop them." "Kadafi gave us freedom of the church," Bishop Martinelli said, citing other examples in the Arab world where Christians face severe restrictions and, in the case of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, virtual pogroms. "Look at Iraq," he said. "They destroyed Saddam Hussein, but it has been very difficult to arrange life since."-- Patrick J. McDonnell (Phot: St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, Tripoli)

 

 

According to religious tradition, God created the human being and settled him in paradise. But after some time, man committed a grave error and was sent down to earth. In the beginning, God wanted to settle the whole of the human race in paradise, but after we sinned, God changed His plan. Thereafter, only selected individuals would be allowed to enter paradise. According to this story of creation, we lost our initial advantage and since then only the second best has been available to us. This story shows us the right direction for our lives. -- Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

“The Islam of the Sufis spread faster than the Islam of the sword. Soon, it became the popular religion of the masses as opposed to the orthodox, often puritanical Islam of the theologian.” This is a line from a chapter on the 13th century monument, Bakhtiyar Kaki's dargah, from the book, Invisible City: The Hidden Monuments of Delhi, a nice and informative coffee-table book with lovely pictures and interesting text about the many famous and not-so-well-known monuments in the Capital. -- Irena Akbar

 

Times change, and with them what, where, and how people eat. In fifteenth-century London a man could be hanged for eating meat on Friday. An ancient Roman was expected to wear a wreath to a banquet. The potato in sixteenth-century Europe was believed to cause leprosy and syphilis. As of two years ago, 19% of America’s meals were being eaten in cars. The contract between humankind and nature remains in force for as long as it is understood which one is the tenant and which one the landlord. The contract between landlord and tenant doesn’t come up for review until the seventeenth-century plantings of capitalist finance give rise to the Industrial Revolution. -- Lewis H. Lapham

 

I halted at the State Tourism Guest House outside Taxila Museum.  Archaeological sites dating back to the 5th century B.C. offers a glimpse of rich Gandhara arts, architecture, sculpture and learning of the Buddhist heritage of the central Asian civilization.  Entire site of this great historical vintage was well preserved and protected by armed guards.  Security officer’s room was echoing with popular Indian songs. Looking at the artefacts of the ancient heritage one wonders what had gone wrong with the people of this great civilisation. Just a few kms. away, beyond the Khyber Pass, monumental structures of the great civilization, 5 storey tall, mountain statues of Bamian Buddhas were, inside Afghanistan,  blown to dust by the Taliban government.  A young curator confirmed unnecessary hostility prevailing towards “Indian civilization”.  No Pakistani visits the site of Taxila, nor had any Indian visited Taxila confirmed the curator. Has he visited the Buddhist sites in India? -- Dhirendra Sharma

My spiritual tree never left its allotted space. Neither did it ever protest against anyone; it never demanded that others find its new, living leaves. It remained at the same place and started a new process within itself. What was this process? The process was to get its food from below as well as from sunlight. The strategy worked. The whole of nature came to its aid and after some months, it gained its lost greenery once again. This is the lesson I learned from my spiritual tree. No protest, no complaint, no demand, no street activism or stage activism: simply trust your own natural abilities and work silently. Try to reshape your destiny. And very soon you will be glad to discover that you have regained your life.  What is a tree? A tree is an illustration from nature. Nature tells us of its scheme through trees - that after every winter, a new spring will follow. -- Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Once a proud but benevolent king sent for his prime minister and said, "All of us have some definite work or assignment to perform. A king rules, a soldier fights, a trader trades, a teacher teaches and a preacher preaches, though as individuals they do other things also. Then what is the primary function of the Creator? Can you answer my question?"  The minister was puzzled. No one knew, and no book ever explained what God's work was. After some thought, he said, "I, too, have often wondered about this like you. But my duty here is to advise and assist you on worldly affairs. This involves spiritual matters and the right person to answer you is our bishop." -- Acharya Ratnananda

My father is my hero and opened the doors of wisdom to us. Pluralism indeed runs in my family. He taught one of the biggest lessons of my life in social cohesiveness and dealing with extremism that I continue to reflect in my talks, acts and write ups. During the communal riots in Jabalpur (India) in the early sixties, both Muslims and Hindus were killed in the mayhem. I wish every father in India, America and elsewhere teaches this lesson to his kids. He was crystal clear on his take; He told us the "individuals" are responsible for the bloodshed and not the religions; he would emphasize that you cannot blame the intangible religion and expect justice, we must blame the individuals who caused it and punish them accordingly for disturbing the peace and thus bring a resolution to the conflict by serving justice. He said you cannot annihilate, kill, hang or beat the religion, then why bark at it? He broke all traditions of the society; during the early sixties India was pretty much like the US in the way she treated her "Harijan - God's chosen people as Mahatma Gandhi termed the "untouchables".-- Mike Ghouse

 

President, Center for Informed Faith:

Should our government have sanctioned the death of Osama bin Laden? At least three options exist within Christian theology. One is "total pacifism," building on the words of Jesus: "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39). Most interpreters, however, believe that his words had to do with personal slander, not self-defense or war. A second could be termed "pragmatic initiative," building on the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 6). When an enemy threatens us, we are sanctioned biblically to defend ourselves even if we must initiate aggression. Most interpreters, however, see the conquest of Canaan as a one-time necessity rather than an abiding biblical principle. A third approach builds on "just war" theory. -- William McKenzie

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