Thursday, June 28, 2012

Death Wish

It has taken me a long time to accept the fact that I’m not really an ambitious person. For someone who has spent most of their life in corporate corridors training people who can’t wait to get to the top, it is no easy fact to accept. For a long time I felt there was something wrong with me – some form of mental illness perhaps? I look around at the people I know and they all seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere, to gain something, to be something, and I seem to be the only one just strolling down this path, having no burning desire to achieve anything specific in my life. I could find nothing in my life to which I could attach my happiness – when I get …I will be happy, when I become…I will be happy or when I go ….I will be happy. No such statements really spring up in my mind. It’s not that I have achieved utter bliss, there are a lot of things wrong with my life but somehow I know that in spite of all the imperfections I will survive and I although I want things to change, I can’t really find the fire within me to make an all our effort to do so.

Since this ‘condition’ was not normal I tried to analyze what exactly was the root of this problem. During this psychoanalysis I discovered one thing – I really believe in my immortality. I believe that the soul is eternal and I’m currently on a journey in this physical body. Since this is for me a transient phase I don’t really have the pressure of getting things done within my lifetime. I’m a tourist and as such I’m just soaking in the experiences of this journey, I am not putting the pressure of an itinerary on this trip. Having made this discovery about myself I realized that I was lying when I said I had no ambition – I did, but not one for this current physical life.

Now some of you may think I’ve gone all religious and have started to collect reward points which will get me to Heaven. Not really. I want 3 things to happen when I die. First I hope that there will be that moment of clarity when I can finally understand what my real place in the Universe is and why I was made to undertake this journey. The second is a free pass to roam the Universe. I wish my spirit could journey through the vastness of this Universe and witness its wonders. I want to see galaxies spiraling in space, I want to see a nebula where new stars are being formed, I want to see a Quasar in action in short I want to see first hand everything that I cannot while I’m in this physical body. The last thing I would like to happen when I die is to be able to answer questions which have been baffling scientists for so long – what are the other dimensions which exist other than those of time and space which we experience? What was before the beginning of the Universe? What happens after the end of our Universe?

Most people would say that I should be more concerned about making it to Heaven and making sure I don’t end up in Hell, but perhaps my definition of Heaven is a bit different. Sitting in a garden eating and drinking all day long is not really such a motivator for me, my idea of Heaven is knowledge. There are those who would be quick to term this as heresy or blasphemy since the religious texts specifically mention a garden as the final destination of the good and pious, however, I have a different take on this. We spent years trying to understand poetries written by masters and yet we are stupid enough to think that a text sent down by God himself can be understood at a literal level? If as we Muslims believe that Allah himself has promised to preserve the Quran till the Day of Judgement, then isn’t it obvious that as our civilization evolves we would understand the depth of the layers that each word contains?

The success of a religion is dependent on the validity of its message through the millennia and its ability to speak to mankind as it keeps evolving its level of knowledge. For people who lived 2000 to 14000 years ago in an arid and barren land an incentive of lush gardens ample water, milk and honey would be the best to entice them towards good – that is what they could relate to, what they could understand, hence that was the description of  Heaven. However that doesn’t really mean that Heaven is a particular location somewhere up in the skies. For all we know, we may just end up as pure consciousness in another dimension, a concept we are only now beginning to marginally understand. Anyway, this is not really about Heaven or Hell, this piece is about my desires.

So my life is without ambition, but I have a few desires for after I die. Having said that I realize that to say I have no ambition is not entirely true. My ambition or burning desire is to get to the truth and that perhaps is not possible while we are in this physical existence.

Lead me from untruth towards the truth
Lead me from darkness towards light
Lead me from mortality towards immortality

This is a beautiful prayer which perhaps defines my desires very well. The fact that it is in Sanskrit will make some squirm, as they will immediately jump to the conclusion that if its in Sanskrit then I’m leaning towards Hinduism. However these lines do not really mention any god or goddess, in fact it is a plea from a student to his teacher. Besides, belief in a religion and understanding other religious texts are 2 separate things. Surely if just by reading about other religions your own belief starts to waver, then your faith was weak in the first place.  The Sanskrit version is:

Asatho Maa Sad Gamaya
Thamaso Maa Jyothir Gamaya
Mrithyor Maa Amritham Gamaya

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Greatest Gift

I’m back after a long period of silence. It’s not that I didn’t have to say anything for so long – but rather too much. All the ideas were fighting for supremacy and the result was complete incoherence – just chatter. There was no shortage of subjects but I couldn’t find the words to give those ideas any form. Everything was getting jumbled up inside my mind, leaving me bewildered. It was a strange feeling, perhaps the closest analogy I can find is that of someone in a coma. They say comatose patients can take  inputs from their surroundings but they are incapable of reacting to them. Such was my case. I knew what I wanted to say but felt helpless when it came to actually finding the words to give form to the idea. This phase made me realize that words are really magical. Human beings are alchemists who turn the ether of their thoughts into the base metals of comprehensible ideas through words. Without words what are we?

I used to think that when various religious traditions talk about humans being God’s supreme creation it is because He gave us free will – the right to make choices and consequently change our life paths. However there is one more thing that makes us different from all other creations of God (at least the creations that co-inhabit this planet with us) and that is the gift of words. We have hundreds of languages and each language has thousands of words and each word is important for self-expression.

Without language we are nothing. We need words not only to communicate with others but with ourselves as well. If we didn’t have words how would we think? How do we ascertain how we are feeling unless we give that emotion a name? How do we reflect on our  lives without words?  How do we plan for our future? How do we contemplate on all our mistakes? We need words to know our selves. Some would ask what about the deaf and mute people? Even though they cannot speak to us through spoken words they do use sign and even those who don’t use sign I’m sure they have developed an entirely unique language for themselves, the meaning of which is only known to the individual who created it and through that language they understand themselves and others.

In fact if God hadn’t given us languages He could not have sent us any messengers nor any religious books. He needed to give us language so we could get to Him. We tend to think of ancient man as being primitive but actually our ancestors were closer to the truth than we give them credit for. Since the dawn of mankind ritualistic chanting has been an important aspect of religious ceremony. Be it the tribal chants of the jungle tribes, the hymns of the ancient Aryans or the current practice of reciting out loud  the Quran or other religious books and hymns. When ancient man heard the ‘sacred’  words and felt their power, it was not because of what words were being recited – rather it was the awe of the sound of words i.e. the reverence of words, of language itself.  Over the years, like with everything else, the core truth got ignored somehow and the rituals honouring those truths have taken centre stage. We are caught up in fighting over who speaks which words - we have forgotten that the very fact we can speak is the greatest gift of God.