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Spiritual Meditations

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

My tenuous Persian connection draws me to Nooshabeh at the annual World Editors Forum in Hamburg earlier this month. The recipient of the 2010 Golden Pen of Freedom is another fearless Iranian journalist, Ahmad Zeid-Abadi. Since he's in jail, the gleaming trophy is received by Akbar Ganji, himself a survivor of the notorious Evin prison and recipient of the 2006 Golden Pen. The ceremony concludes with a haunting performance by Gitti Khosravi, the throaty Iranian opera singer reinforcing Shelley's lament that 'our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought'. -- Bachi Karkaria

 

When I was at school, in Class 7, I had a classmate, Faquir Bakhsh, who was 22-years-old, 11 years elder to most of the other boys in the class. The reason was that he was unable to join school till he was already 15. He was tall and had a flowing beard. When he came the first day, most students thought he was a teacher. Many of them shunned him when they realised he was a student. I was one among the few who befriended him. He told me that the great Sufi mystic Rumi of Iran was among his distant ancestors and that now he himself studies Sufi lore at home. -- J.S. Neki

 

Prophet Ayub (Job) is someone whose name has become synonymous with patience. He possessed all the adornments of this world including good health, abundant wealth and a large family. Suddenly he became infected with a terrible skin disease where worms were eating into his flesh and the body was covered with ugly sores. Except for his heart and tongue, with which he remembered his Lord, no part or organ of his body was spared of the disease. The fear of infection caused his close friends and family to force him out of the village, with just his wife attending to his needs. She worked in people’s home to raise money, but then people began to stay away from her as well. Narrations inform that he would encourage the worms to eat from his flesh and thanked God for creating them. -- Sadia Dehlvi

There are two different approaches to worship God for fear, greed or sheer love and devotion. Most of us ordinary people worship God either for fear of punishment or greed for reward in paradise. In Sufi lore it is said once Rabia Basri, a great Sufi woman of 23nd century hijrah (8th century A.D.) once was carrying bucket of water in one hand and a burning torch in the other. When people saw her they asked O! Rabia why are you carrying this bucket of water and burning torch?

It is love of power, arrogance and wealth which leads to all evils in the world and it is power of love which negates all these evils and makes this world a paradise. Now it is or us to go for love or for fear. One who loves is truly fearless and indeed it is love which is God and it is God who is love. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

Navaratri is celebrated to celebrate victory of spirit over inertia, pride, shame, craving and aversion. We rejoice in the three primordial qualities that make up the universe.

Though Navaratri is celebrated as the victory of good over evil, the actual fight is not between good and evil. From the Vedantic point of view, the victory is of the absolute reality over the apparent duality. Navaratri is time to drop the separateness and recognise that life in everything. Mother Divine or pure consciousness pervades all forms and names. Recognising the one divinity in every form and every name is celebration of Navaratri. Hence, special pujas honouring all aspects of life and nature are performed during the last three days. -- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Hence the sentiment that dominated in the run-up to the Allahabad high court’s judgment: a generalised unease that this issue, with all its blood-soaked historical baggage, its appeal to an atavistic, communal sense of who we are, would once again take over India’s political conversation. That sentiment, universally apparent — even in the various quirky suggestions about what to do with the disputed site — was driven by those who felt that they had a stake in only one thing: in moving on.

So, now the judgment’s out, naturally everyone wants to move on quickly. Nobody really wants to look at it very closely: because we’re happy to read it as an attempt to force a compromise; because we’re desperate to ensure nobody loses their temper; because partitioning something equally has a certain intuitive appeal; and because very few of us are lawyers, and we’re correspondingly diffident. -- Mihir S. Sharma

In every religious tradition God’s name is truth. In Islamic tradition one of Allah’s name is Haq i.e. Truth. Without being truthful and engaged in constant quest for truth one can hardly be religious. … Along with constant quest for truth humility is required. Any sense of truth being any ones monopoly leads to sense of arrogance and destroys the very quality of truth.

That is why Qur’an says that all previous prophets came with truth and requires Muslims not to distinguish between one and the other prophets, those who do so are not true believers. All prophets and great religious thinkers were committed to quest for truth. Also, Qur’an maintains that Allah has created diversity, not uniformity so that one could understand different forms of truth without leading to arrogance. Anyone engaged in quest for truth has to have a quality of humility. Qur’an strongly denounces mustakbitin (the powerful and arrogant). Most of the Prophets mentioned in the Qur’an were of humble origin.

Third important quality for being truly religious is being compassionate i.e. being sensitive to others suffering. Anyone who is not compassionate cannot be a true human being, let alone religious. Allah’s name in Qur’an is Compassionate Merciful (Al-Rahman al-Rahim) and Prophet Muhammad has been described as Mercy of the Worlds (Rahmatan li-Al’alamin). Any Muslim who is not compassionate would never be a true Muslim. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

It is not only in New York that Sufism is misunderstood; even in the Muslim world it is widely ignored or sidelined. And that’s when it is not being persecuted, sometimes by fellow Muslims who claim it is deviant. In the past year, at least four Sufi shrines and mosques in Pakistan have been the target of suicide bombers — attacks that have killed at least 42 people. In Turkey, where Sufism was suspected of being a covert sect with tentacles reaching into every corner of society, the post-Ottoman secular rulers closed Sufi lodges and outlawed the Whirling Dervishes, the hallmark of Sufism. The Dervishes were later granted a “cultural” status and permitted to continue performing their ecstatic dances. Every Saturday night, Dervishes in white gowns and cone-shaped hats perform at Konya’s Mevlana Cultural Centre to gentle applause from tourists and respectful silence from Sufis, who consider the twirling salutation to be an act of mysticism, a way to touch the divine presence in this life. -- Catherine Field

 

Traditional beliefs and observances have something remarkable in them and that is why they persisted so long. For one, these prescriptions urge us to do justice to great beings. And, more importantly, they indicate that no task is mundane. In Yajnavalkya Smriti, for instance, bathing is mainly classified into Mukhyam and Gaunam, and these have six and seven sub-divisions respectively. All auspicious acts are supposed to be done after taking a bath. Otherwise they don’t incur any results. Hence, one has to begin the day with bathing. -- V. Balakrishnan

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