Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Law of Attraction and Religion

Recently there has been a lot of focus on the Law of Attraction especially since the book ‘ The Secret’ was published. The basic tenet of this philosophy is simple – you manifest in your reality that what you think about most. In other words humans have the power to create the reality of their lives just by thinking about it. This usually causes great alarm to the religiously inclined, because what it means is that the power lies within humans rather than an external force i.e. God and that of course is heresy.

However Law of Attraction is not actually about thinking and manifesting, it is about thinking (stating a desire) and then allowing it in our lives and the bulk of our work is in the allowance not the thinking aspect of this law. But still the question remains, is it contrary to our religious beliefs? When I first started to study the Law of Attraction, like most people I too had many questions and concerns. Over time as I studied it more in-depth, I found that religion actually provided a medium for this law and rather than being at cross purposes, they complimented each other.

The first big question that emerges in everyone’s mind is if all we have to do is think then where does prayer come in? My counter question to that is why do we pray? It is of course to ask God for something – be it a material desire, salvation or just a state of protection. In fact whenever we pray we fulfill the first step of the Law of Attraction i.e. stating our desire – we let the Universe know what it is that we want.  The act of praying or asking God is of no use whatsoever unless you really and truly believe in God. It is our belief that gives strength to the prayer. When we pray in essence we hand over our requests to God knowing that He will somehow make them true for us.

This process of letting go or handing it over to the Universe is critical for desire manifestation according to the Law of Attraction. As I mentioned earlier the bulk of our work is to allow our desires to manifest. To the novice this may seem like the easiest thing in the world but to the initiated it is the most difficult aspect of LOA. You see the Universe does not respond to our words but to our emotions. In other words we don’t attract things in our lives by thinking about them rather we attract circumstances, things, events which closely match our predominant feeling. The most important aspect of allowance is to feel predominantly happy, optimistic or joyous. The longer we are able to maintain this state of joy, the quicker the manifestations will be. Vividly imagining as if your desires have already manifested and seeing yourself enjoying them also helps but on the flip side constantly thinking of when they will materialize actually delays the manifestations because the predominant feeling is that of waiting and the attention is on the absence of what you desire. Waiting and focusing on the lacking will generate more waiting and lack.

Now let’s get back to religion. You see the whole point of praying is to let go of things and let God take care of them. If our belief is truly strong then the act of praying should bring us relief from all negative emotions and make us content in the knowledge that our prayers are being answered. However, most people are never able to cross this line of faith. They constantly worry about when and if their prayers will be answered thus actually delaying the allowance and then wondering why God does not answer their prayers. He will if you move out of the way! If you don’t really trust Him then why go through the motions?

Every religion has a set of rituals designed to bring contentment, peace and joy.  Being a Muslim the act of Salaat 5 times a day for me is Allah’s way of ensuring that we not only take stress busting breaks but also that we completely forget our worries during that time and enter into a state of bliss. After all if your faith in God and your rituals do not make you happy then there is something very wrong in your personal belief system – I said personal belief system because religions cannot be wrong, people who follow them usually are.  

If you truly practice religion the way it was meant to be then you use the Law of Attraction to your advantage if not the Law of Attraction will keep working against you. Just look at the state of our country and the Ummah as well. We spend most of our time in blaming, being angry, hating, and being generally unhappy and what are we manifesting as a result? We are attracting and manifesting circumstances which make us angrier, more miserable and helpless. 

Of course even for those who are masters of the Law of Attraction sometimes seemingly random events occur in their lives or they are faced with unforeseen challenges. The avid LOA fan will tell you that at some level of your sub-conscious you attracted these things in your life. However my take is slightly different. I believe that God puts us in these situations so that not only does our resolve and character strengthen, but that our desires grow as well. Life would be pretty boring if we all had the same level of desires, usually a tragedy in our lives provides the spring board for noble and grand desires.  Therefore these events are what is sometimes described as ‘ contrast’ or situations where we can come to a decision as to what we want next in our lives.

It is easy to discard any idea without the slightest investigation, usually because when we are faced with two seemingly contradicting philosophies we become extremely uncomfortable emotionally. The easier route to take is just negate the one that is causing the turmoil. The more difficult and noble approach is to go through this discomfort, examine your own beliefs, find the truth behind both ideas and then build a bridge. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Its All A Myth

All religious traditions have 3 things in common; they all help their followers find inner peace through a path of righteousness, each has its own rituals and they all contain their own specific mythologies. Objectively speaking no one really has a problem with the core essence of any religion i.e. the central message. Every religion teaches its followers to adopt the noblest of human characteristics – truth, serenity, justice, peace, sacrifice and simplicity. I have not come across a religion that teaches anything to the contrary.

Rituals are the identity badges of every religion. It is the rituals that people follow which enables us to differentiate between these traditions, hence they are unique for every religion. When followers of one religion criticize others they usually launch their attack on the basis of the rituals that a religion follows.
Mythologies are stories that are associated with a religion and can be loosely termed as the ‘history’ of that tradition. I would like to clarify here that contrary to popular belief a myth does not mean a lie – a myth is a traditional story usually involving supernatural characters. Many rituals are spawned from the mythology of that particular religion. A number of rituals are designed to help preserve these mythologies so that people never forget their origins. But mythologies are much more than just history passed down through the generations in a narrative form. They embody the wisdom of the ancestors passed in an easy to remember narrative.

Of all the ancient mythologies I find those of the Vedic tradition i.e. Hinduism the most interesting personally, simply because unlike the Greek and the Romans, Hinduism is considered to be the most ancient of all practiced religions and since I am from the sub-continent I find it easier to understand and study. What fascinates me about these myths is the attempt of the ancient people to pass on their knowledge of geography, medicine, history and the arts to their descendants through fascinating imagery.

Take for example the story of the sacred river Ganga. Ganga was the daughter of the king Hemavat ruler of Himalaya.  All his daughters were turned into rivers except Parvatti who became Shiva’s consort. Ganga was taken to the heavens to purify it after the Asuras had polluted it.  She was asked to come down and flow on earth by Bhagirtha. The sins of Bhagiratha’s ancestors had polluted the land and there was chaos and famine everywhere, after years of prayers and meditation he finally managed to bring Ganga down from the heavens. But if Ganga were to come straight down earth would not have been able to sustain its force hence Shiva intervened and Ganga first flowed onto his head and then made her way down to earth through his hair.

For non-Hindus this is fantasy at its peak, but look more closely and you will find a complete lesson on basic geography. In Sanskrit Hem means snow and hence Hemavat was snow king whose kingdom was Himalaya which means snow abode. All his daughters were fated to become rivers including Saraswati and Ganga, which as any school going kid now will tell you  makes perfect sense as we know that these rivers start in the Himalayas as snow, therefore in essence these rivers are the daughters of king of snow who rules over the snow abode. The river Ganga does not really start as a large river from a single point of origin, although the main river can be traced to Gomukh where the glacial melt water flows down into a stream which down course becomes the mighty river. However there are several streams and rivulets along the Himalaya which contribute their waters to Ganga. So to say that Ganga flows down from the locks of Shiva is a metaphor to describe the hundreds of streams which flow down to the river. A geography lesson narrated with imagery.

The sins of Bhagiratha’s ancestors had brought a terrible plight to his people who were dying of starvation due to famine. Again this is a way of not only making people understand that water is essential to life but that our reckless behaviour can have a long lasting effect on our future generations   a lesson we still haven’t learnt unfortunately). Clean water nourishes the land and provides a balance essential for its sustainability. As with all religions the ritual surrounding this myth has become more important than the real meaning of the story. Each year millions of people ritually ‘cleanse ‘ themselves by bathing in the waters of Ganga which itself is now fast becoming the most polluted river on the planet.  The ritual has become bigger than the lesson and this is not just in Hinduism, in every religion we see examples where rituals are being adhered to with fervour without a real understanding what they are meant to commemorate.  Muslims pray 5 times a day - the ritual is supposed to help focus their thoughts, relieve stress and surrender themselves to Allah but little of this really happens, while the body is postulating the mind is thinking of what one is going to be doing after the prayer is over, all worries, all problems all thoughts are still very much in play and surrender is the last thing on people’s mind.

There is no getting away from the fact that as long as we are alive we will be living in a diverse world. Religious diversity is a fact and those who either ignore this or try to eradicate it are living in a fool’s paradise. We have to understand that to believe in a religion and to respect it are two different things. I may be practicing one religion but that does not give me the right to negate or be derisive of others. If we take a little bit of time to understand the mythology of any religion we will be able to understand the wisdom behind it and no one can really argue with wisdom.

None of us can really deny the essence of any religion because they are the same. We can all respect other religions if we try and understand what their myths are really trying to say. And as for rituals - we can all agree to have the right to be different from each other. Perhaps then the world will become a more liveable, beautiful place. But this is only possible if we all take a step towards understanding and respecting each other rather than running in the opposite direction every time we come across a belief that is contrary to ours.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Nostalgia Attack

When you catch yourself spending more time indulging in nostalgia than dreaming of the future you know you are getting old. I guess I’m getting old. Childhood memories, snapshots of places and people long gone, seem to creep up out of nowhere. My parents were the Partition generation i.e. they were witness to the excitement as well as the ensuing misery as people migrated, got killed and separated from their loved ones. My mom lost everything - her father, her property, her childhood, her joy, so it is not strange that she would spend the rest of her life looking back, saddened by the turn of events and what could have been. As a reaction to her attachment to the past I lived my life with one hand on the delete button. A lot has happened in my life but I really don’t remember things with clarity, I have always looked ahead. So it is doubly strange that suddenly I have become nostalgic.

I belong to a generation that straddles two completely different eras. My early childhood was spent in a time when Karachi was still carrying the vivid impressions of the ‘Raj’, where things were built to last a 100 years and where change occurred infrequently. My adult life has been part of the IT revolution where each day brings a life changing innovation. Perhaps that is why even my earliest memories seem to be like old black and white photographs – slightly faded and tinged with sepia.

Karachi was such a different city back then. One of its most defining features was the tram service which ran right down the middle of the roads of Saddar and  M.A Jinnah road (or Bunder road as it was known then). I didn’t see the trams run for very long as their era was almost at an end by the time I was old enough to notice them. I remember people getting off and on these trams as they slowly made their way up and down and most vividly I remember the clanging of the brass bells as they warned people to get out of their path. The city was filled with the sound of bells and occasional horns rather than the pressure horns of the public transport which took its place. Where Gul Plaza now stands on M.A Jinnah road was the central depot of the trams or Tram Godhi as it was locally known. It was a humungous structure with corrugated metal sheets as roofing and though it was no more than a very big shed, it was still architecturally more pleasing to the eye than the ugly monstrosity that has taken its place.

The 60’s and 70’s saw an explosion of property development where beautiful building were torn down and replaced by eye sores which as time passed by became more than just sores – they became puss infected wounds which unfortunately we have no choice but to suffer each day. The area of Soldier Bazaar had grand stone bungalows, each of which had large gardens filled with ‘peepal’ and banyan trees. In fact these trees were all over Karachi and perhaps the best known characteristic of the city. As we started tearing down the structures we also cut off all the trees barring a few that remained on M.A Jinnah road, and the task of tearing down the remaining ones has been taken up by nature through gale force winds during the monsoon season. We are a nation which is addicted to shortcuts and quick profits, therefore no one ever bothered to plant new peepal or banyan trees since they take a very long time to grow. During the 90’s we started to wake up to the importance of  trees for the environment and massive plantation drives were undertaken. Karachi now had little space and no patience to allow these trees to take roots, so instead of these slow growing trees we saw hundreds of eucalyptus trees  being planted, hence changing the character of Karachi once and for all. The oases of shades in a concrete desert were no more.

Of course most people will wonder why I am not reminiscing about the peace, and tolerance of the city. I too miss those qualities of the city but then the city itself has gone through a physical metamorphosis or I daresay, mutation. And this new city has a personality befitting its new looks. A city that looks harsh and scarred has a personality which is hard and enjoys scarring others.