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Spiritual Meditations

A violent attack on Sufis for their beliefs is not a new thing. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk banned all Sufi orders in 1925, and their spiritual centres were taken over by the Turkish state. In North Africa in the 12th century, the Maliki Almoravid dynasty actively denounced Sufis and Sufism. The practice of Sufism is characterised by its disciples’ sole aim: to become closer to God. They achieve this through dhikr, the remembrance of God, and asceticism, through being “in the world but not of it”. Sufis are opposed to violence, extremism and jihad. They are seen as the world’s symbols of Islamic tolerance and humanism: nondogmatic, flexible and nonviolent. Many Muslims in Pakistan consider themselves to be Sufis, and while the South Asian brand of Sufism is tied to our own particular culture, it has links to Sufi orders all over the world, which have thrived despite violence and discrimination. -- Bina Shah

The Swami’s confession has provoked a sense of triumph among Muslims and secularists, who had all along suspected that Hindutva groups were responsible for the series of blasts outside mosques that started in Maharashtra in 2003. But while the campaign now on, to get the Muslim boys arrested for these blasts out on bail is necessary, shouldn’t we also appreciate the act that made their release a possibility? Those fighting against injustice to the minorities must need be concerned with that cliché called “communal harmony”. Swami Aseemanand’s act goes beyond harmony: as Kaleem, the prisoner who the Swami says prompted him to confess, told this reporter, in his Hyderabadi dialect: “Bahoot bada kaam hai — confess karna.’’ The interaction between Kaleem and the Swami is truly the stuff legends are made of. The young man’s behaviour is no less inspiring than the Swami’s. Tortured and imprisoned for 18 months for a crime he hadn’t committed; his family hounded into moving house six times; losing his coveted medical seat (he was fourth in the merit list); finally being acquitted, and then re- arrested in another case… after all this, to be kind to the man responsible for the very crime for which he had suffered, is hard to understand. -- Jyoti Punwani

 

The mystic and philosopher Shaykh Muhyiddin Ibn al Arabi is amongst my favourite early Sufis. Born in Murcia, Moorish Spain in 1165, he came to be called Shaykh ul Akbar, the great master. One of the most prolific writers in Islamic history, Ibn al Arabi’s writings immensely impacted Muslim communities throughout the world. He remains a refreshing voice that throws light on the human condition in any time and any place. Rooted in Islamic sciences, his work is universal, accepting that each person has a unique path to the Truth.The 19-year-old Ibn al Arabi met the renowned philosopher Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) whom the West knows as Averroes. The philosopher asked the young mystic, “Do the fruits of mystic illumination agree with philosophical speculation?” Ibn al Arabi replied, “Yes and no. Between the yes and no, the spirits take their flight beyond the matter”. --Sadia Dehlvi

Numbers play a crucial role in a man’s life. The crucial events of Salman Taseer’s life prove this theory. The number that played a very critical role in deciding the turn of events in his life is 9.

The life and death of the slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer was governed by this number. He was born on May 31, 1944. If we add the digits of his date of birth we get 9…

One important aspect of the number 9 people is that they are found to make great enemies, to cause strife and opposition in the position they are and are often wounded or killed either in warfare or in the battle of life. -- Sohail Arshad

Silence is broken by needs, with the act of asking, with the urge of wanting...

Betalab vo de raha hai chup raho

kuchh kaha to baat khaali jayegi

(Without asking, you are being given,

if you ask, your words may go blank)

...so mumbled a Sufi faqir calligrapher, who was challenged by his speech.

The Indian-Eastern wisdom was a subtle way of achieving the impossible without visible effort. It was a way of making the unimaginable happen. Many a times this phenomenon could not be explained so it was called a “miracle”.

Bhika baat agham ki, kahan sunan ki nahi

Jo jaane so kahe nahi, jo kahe so jaane nahi

(Bhika, the truth is, not said or heard. Those who know, do not say, and those who say, know not...)

The art of silence is the act of not asking. It is the state of knowing. A state of Ching-jing Wu-wei, sitting and doing nothing. It is the acuteness of perception without the bitterness of not achieving it in a given time scale---- Muzaffar Ali

Ever since I was young there has been a halo around the name of Swami Vivekananda, as there was around his master's, Sri Ramakrishna. Recognition outside India meant a lot a hundred years ago; it was an enviable kind of validation. But to be candid, none of this reverence affected my life. Vedanta was just an arcane term, and the flight of modern Indians was toward science, upward social mobility and personal freedom. I imagine that anyone who took the step of joining the Indian Diaspora followed the same wave that carried me to America.

It was years before I realized what I'd run away from, and now Vedanta means a lot to me. It is the map to higher consciousness, never surpassed by later history yet frequently validated in fresh, new ways. Vivekananda did that a century ago. We honour his memory for it, but that's incidental, for the spiritual path implies action, not salute to memory. Vedanta is either here and now or it is nowhere.

Which means that without new life Vivekananda's legacy will be inert. The only viable memorial is to put his model of spirituality into practice. I'm avoiding the phrase "put his ideas into practice," because Vedanta, once reduced to ideas, is equally lifeless. So what would Vivekananda ask us to do today, here and now? --- Deepak Chopra

On the 28th of September falls the 706th Urs, death anniversary of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, who lies buried inside the compound of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah. Like most devotees, I follow the tradition of first offering prayers at Khusrau’s tomb before seeking blessings from his Master. I respect Khusrau’s genius, adore his music, love his poetry and seek his intercession to invoke the blessings of Hazrat Nizamuddin. In these tumultuous times, Khusrau’s legacy signifying India’s composite heritage and culture has become more relevant than ever. -- Sadia Dehlvi

The fact of the matter is that each and everything in this world belongs to Almighty Allah. He is the real owner of all. As such, man’s life and riches, which are part of this world, also belongs to Him, because it is He who created them and it is He who has assigned them to each man for his use. Looking at the problem from this angle, the question of any sale or purchase does not arise at all. Almighty God is the real owner, there is no question of His purchasing what is already His. Man is not their real owner; he has no title. But there is one thing that has been conferred on man, and which now belongs fully to him, and that is his free will, the freedom of choice of following or not following the path of Almighty Allah. -- Khwaja Mohammed Zubair

 

The Vedas are described as apaurusheya, that is, written by no man. They were transmitted down from one generation to the next without anyone having a clue as to who wrote them. This question of authorship of the Vedas is linked with another, perhaps more tractable, question: When were they written? From the study of the contents, the language and allusions to events, Western scholars arrived at the figure of around 3.5 to four thousand years ago as the age of Vedic literature. Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, known to most Indians for his leadership of the Indian national movement for Independence, before the arrival on the scene of Mahatma Gandhi, had a multifaceted personality. He was well versed in mathematics, had written a learned commentary of the Bhagavad Gita called the Geetarahasya, had a philosophical bent and took great interest in social issues besides running a national newspaper, Kesari, of which he was also the editor. Last, but not the least, he possessed basic knowledge of astronomy which he put to use in a highly original fashion to decide the antiquity of the Vedas. -- Jayant V. Narlikar

Sanghasena — who was born amid poverty at Tingmosgang — a remote village in Ladakh — knew for sure that education could transform the lives of people. He realised that poor people needed shelter, food, clothing and medicines not religious philosophy. Moreover, religion also preaches welfare and happiness of people and he would be following the religious tenets if he could ensure good education for children in Ladakh — especially the girls. In 1986, he set up the Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre in Leh and six years later, he laid the foundation stone at Choglamsar for setting up Devachan — a school to provide free education to children. -- BHIKKU Sanghasena

 

Ever since Jesus was born 2,000 years ago, the story of his birth has been narrated over and over again, not just in words but also through poetry, paintings, songs, radio dramas, classical dance forms, small and big films and through many other art forms. The real narration of his birth though, as portrayed in the Gospel of St. Luke, is rather simple as: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was the governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. -- Father Dominic Emmanuel

The festive season of Christmas provides an opportunity to reflect on Jesus and the centrality of Love in Divine philosophies. Although the Muslim and Christian narratives somewhat differ, one cannot be a Muslim unless they believe in Maryam, Virgin Mary, and Isa Ruh Allah, Jesus, an important prophet who is the Spirit of Allah, that is, pure compassion and mercy...

Muslims believe that Jesus did not die on the Cross, but was raised to the Heavens. However, both Islam and Christianity believe that Christ will return to the earth to destroy the Antichrist who shall bring tyranny and war, selling lust, greed, gluttony and other sins. Both Jesus and Mary have significant roles in Sufi thought, finding frequent mention in mystic verse. -- Sadia Dehlvi

The traditional ends or ideals of life are dharma, artha, kama and moksha, understood as moral order, material fulfilment, emotional gratification and spiritual freedom. The Indian psyche has been shaped by these time-honoured principles of organising ones life and they have given us a certain direction and guidance, underpinning our life, both sacred and secular. While dharma is what sustains all our activities and moksha is the ultimate state of being, artha and kama are driven by our innate nature and largely define our material life. Our material and emotional pursuits are products of our intrinsic psyche and mental attributes. However, there is one pursuit that is worthy of being included as a purushartha or ideal in its own right, or at the very least woven as a subtext to artha and kama, and that is seeking the beautiful and making it a part of ones life, or realising saundarya inwardly and subjectively. -- Harsha V Dehejia

 

Meditation brings self-realisation. A tale from Chandogya Upanishad is relevant here. Sage Aruni conveyed to his son Svetketu what this realisation is. He asked his son to drop a pinch of salt in a bowl of water. Then he asked him to take the salt out. Svetketu said, he couldn’t. Aruni smiled and said, “Taste this water”. Svetketu complied. Aruni then said, “Though the salt is now invisible and intangible, yet it has permeated the water with its essence. So too, you do not perceive the reality that is within you as a subtle essence. That essence is the atman and you are that”. -- J.S. Neki

A tree withstands the vagaries of nature — the storms, the downpours and the floods — to protect the flora, the fauna and the soil alike. A tree provides for those around it — the animals, the birds and the insects in the form of food and shelter, as a nurturer as well as a healer. A tree purifies the air around it, a tree binds the soil together, a tree participates in causing the rains, a tree decomposes to enrich the earth — a tree befriends the environment. -- Yogi Ashwini

 

We are in the beginning of Muharram, the first month of the lunar Muslim Hijrah calendar. According to authentic prophetic traditions, Muharram is one of the four sanctified months mentioned in the Quran, the others believed to be Dhul-Qa’dah, Dhul-Hijjah and Rajab. Muharram literally means, “one that is sacred”. This does not mean that other months have no sanctity, because the month of Ramzan is admittedly the most sanctified month in the year. However, these four months were specifically termed as sacred months. -- Sadia Dehlvi

 

A dimension is our level of existence at any given point of time. The state that we humans exist in is called the bhulok. Dimensions below the bhulok are called tals; sutal, rasatal, patal are the levels of existence below the bhulok, while above the bhulok exist the bhuvah, svah, maha, janah, tapah and satyalok, each lok having layers of existence to it. Each lok has attributes to it that create sub-dimensions within that. At our level too, i.e. at the level of the humans in the bhulok, we have so many different types of people; workers, professionals, businessmen, CEOs. Each is different from the other in characteristics and the experiences that they live through. -- Yogi Ashwini

 

Pandu was the rightful and noble monarch of Bharata, the bodily kingdom. Pand in Sanskrit means white or pure, referring to the faculty of discriminating between right and wrong, which humans inherently possess. If man lives as per this discriminating power he will live life in such a way that slowly but surely, the soul's body-consciousness ascends to spirit-consciousness and thus one attains independence from false providers of happiness, namely, the five senses.

As the story goes, Pandu has five sons, three from his wife Kunti -- representing the power of dispassion-- and two from Madri, the power of persisting in dispassion.

The five brothers unwittingly lose their kingdom in a game of dice, deceitfully loaded by Duryodhana (material desire) against them. The bodily kingdom comes to be ruled by the blind king Dhritarashtra who represents our own sense-infatuated and hence "blind" mind. -- Anand M Kulkarni

 

Krishna says in the Gita: The one whose mind and senses are under his control, meaning, who is disciplined, is a happy person.

He then talks about a person who is undisciplined and disintegrated. Such a person has no peace. And where is happiness for a restless man? These two things cannot go together. He is one whose mind, intellect and sense organs are not integrated with each other. Our intellect is convinced of something great, but our mind has different cravings. The senses are extrovert and this conflict is constantly going on in our life between what we know and what we do. In this world, there is sorrow, not because we lack knowledge, but because we do not put it into practice. This is disintegration. -- Swami Tejyomananda

Guru Nanak reminds us that each one of them is an embodiment of the divine light, which He again explains with reference to Nature, "The drop of water is in the sea,/ And the sea is in the drop of water, who shall solve the riddle?" Man is, therefore, a part of Nature and God, his goal being to merge in Him. A journey from being a manmukh or ego-centric person to a gurmukh or God-oriented one liberates you from ahankara or ego and all suffering. -- Kulbir Kaur

I stepped into Dhaka Central Jail on 25th of Baisakh, 1417. I reached the main gate of the jail after taking the road from Chankharpool. During the 1970 elections, I often used to visit this part of town, going from house to house, campaigning on father’s behalf. In 1954, our family had moved to Dhaka and from that year onwards we used to take this route regularly. I would come to visit father in jail along with Kamal and little Jamal. I would hold on to my mother’s hand as we entered the prison. We were allowed to visit him twice a month. This wasn’t the first time that father had been jailed. In 1948 he was incarcerated on quite a few occasions. From 1948 to 1952 he had to spend three whole years in prison without a break. Later, he would be put behind bars again in 1958, 1962, 1964, 1966, and 1971. -- Sheikh Hasina

 

We are told that homosexuality is the upcoming thing in man’s world. So my mind does wander to, ‘what kind of poetry this homosexuality can breed?’ Is the world of poetry also destined to be equally receding necessitating the clubbing of it with man’s destiny? And how do I explain to the Modern Ideologue that for some men, the ‘touch’ of a man is revolting and instead of being a healing-touch it would amount to being a death-dealing touch.  I would prefer, in that case, to move back to my receding world, if that is what ‘man’ has willed for himself.--Manzoorul Haque

Have people lost faith in people? Have people become mere products? Has modern consumerism made human beings respond to other humans only through media... react to brands, insensitive to intentions?  Has media increased the generation gap that even a decade may seem like two generations or more? While we pay institutions more than we can save in our lifetime to educate our children, it is likely that our cherished values will be conspicuous by their absence. -- Muzaffar Ali

Most people who read the Arabic of the Qur’an read it only by rote. They make the (nearly) right sounds (give or take pronunciations and accents) but they don’t understand a single thing they say, except maybe occasional repeating of the word ‘Allah.’ For example, my teacher has a Qur’an-reading evening when members of the community will recite at the same time in low voices from each of the 30 parts until in one session (lasting less than an hour) the entire Qur’an is read. The sound is like Qur’an schools with kids (and some adults) learning to memorize the entire text and doing so by practicing out loud, each at different places. It is not a cacophony of sound as you might expect. There is still melodious rhythm and flow even in this. The sound of the Qur’an is soothing. -- Amina Wadud

 

According to his biographers Plato and Xenophon, Socrates did not just search for the meaning of life, but the meaning of our own lives. He asked fundamental questions of human existence. What makes us happy? What makes us good? What is virtue? What is love? What is fear? How should we best live our lives? Socrates saw the problems of the modern world coming; and he would certainly have something to say about how we live today.

He was anxious about the emerging power of the written word over face-to-face contact. ...

After his death, Socrates' ideas had a prodigious impact on both western and eastern civilisation. His influence in Islamic culture is often overlooked — in the Middle East and North Africa, from the 11th century onwards, his ideas were said to refresh and nourish, “like . . . the purest water in the midday heat”. Socrates was nominated one of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his nickname “The Source”. So it seems a shame that, for many, Socrates has become a remote, lofty kind of a figure. -- Bettany Hughes

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