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THE QURAN CYCLE: Illuminating Metaphors – III

In Admiring Literature, cognition, excerpts and quotes, language and communication, literature, perception, philosophy, poetry, psychology, sources of knowledge, The Method on December 8, 2011 at 12:09 am

Linked to Part I and Part II

The irreplacability of a metaphor

The potential meaningfulness of metaphor does not yield to simple paraphrase, its meaning cannot be reduced to a nonmetaphorical, propositional format without loss. This is the reason for the enormous creativity that metaphor displays not only in poetic discourse: In ordinary everyday life it can restructure ingrained patterns of thinking. And in scientific contexts it can have a heuristic* function.

*heuristic= “serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation.” (dictionary.com)

The above ‘creativity hypothesis’ of the cognitive theory of metaphor (as summarized by Jakel↓1) mentions one of the reasons why metaphor is an irrerplacable part of any effective verbal message: it is has no simple substitute for meaning. Its meaning can only be elaborated, explored, interpreted, speculated upon to an extent; but it cannot be specified exactly and absolutely.

We need the metaphor in just the cases when there can be no question as yet of the precision of scientific statement.*

*see the last post for source

As the above quote from the previous post reminds us, we depend upon metaphor to express abstract or obscure phenomenon in terms of familiar, concrete and imaginable terms. As Andrew Ortony (↓2)  puts it, “somethings are by their nature not describable.” (p. 14), and it falls upon the metaphor to express the inexpressible.

My references so far may relegate the ‘irreplacibility’ of a metaphor to the way things are: we simply use the metaphor when we have no way around it, when we lack more straightforward ways of describing something. But that view is certainly wrong. Through a literary example, see how metaphor creates new worlds of meaning to whom no other effective entry might be possible other than through the metaphor itself:

 

Fursat mein sun shaguftgi-e-ghuncha ki sada

ye wo sukhan nahi jo kisi ne keha bhi ho

 

When free, listen to the sound of the roses’ glee.

This is not speech that has been uttered.

The above is a Nasir Kazmi couplet, both in the original and in translation by me, from a previous blogpost. ‘Roses’ glee’ is a metaphor in itself (to be considered later here as an example), but right now i’m concerned with the ‘sound of’ part. The reader is forced to stop and try imagine what the sound of roses’ glee must be like. Upon analysis (which the readers of that pertinent post linked above may recall), the sound of roses’ glee most likely refers to the many messages of metaphysical nature the poet discerns in the sights and sounds of nature. Yet the interpretation is still open beyond the meaning already considered. And in terms of imagination, the metaphor forges new ground by inviting us to imagine an event that has never been experienced before. Philosopher Mark Johnson↓3 explains well what happens in such cases:

… one experiences the insight that two entire systems of implications… belong together in some fundamental way. The cognitive activity at this level… consists of the alteration of certain experiential structures (e.g. categorizations, concepts), such that one discovers a formal unity between previously unassociated things. 

We automatically associate sound with animate beings; that is the way we experience the world. When presented with Nasir’s couplet, however, we have to re-conceptualize sound as ‘a channel of communication’ or more precisely, as ‘a general aura of meaningfulness that emanates from all beings that have a purpose in their existence’ to get to the meaning of the verse. We similarly recast the flower as ‘an object created with a purpose’ from its foremost conception as ‘a part of the natural world’ or as ‘an object of beauty’.

This is not a rare phenomenon in the rarified arena of literature; more everyday examples abound. For instance, ‘my boss is a shark’ creates a new concept of ‘sharkness in humans’ that is different from both the literal shark and from the usual concept of brutality (for an elaboration of this example and the theory behind it follow the reference in Note 4. below).

 

The intensity of a metaphor

There is a sense of shock about a metaphor… which results from the clash of juxtaposed literal sense.

__ Paul Henle↓5

One puzzling aspect of the expressive capaciousness of metaphor takes the form of an image’s potential for focusing both thought and emotion in a particularly intense, economical way.  

__ Robert Rogers↓6

…by circumventing discretization [metaphors] enable the communication of ideas with a richness of detail much less likely to come about in the normal course of events.

and

… the emotive as well as the sensory and cognitive aspects [of the subject of metaphor] are more available [in mind], for they have been left intact in the transferred chunk [of meaning].

__ Andrew Ortony↓7

As Ortony explains so well in his essay, metaphor “lies much closer to perceived experience” in a significant way that makes it a particularly vivid phenomenon. We experience the world in a continuous and holistic fashion. Our stream of consciousness is a flow of sensations of all kind coming in simultaneously, whether at that time we are interacting with the outside world or going through our own ideas, emotions, or memories. We don’t experience things in a discrete, fragmented, one-by-one fashion as when we see concepts graphically displayed in a presentaion, or dissected frog parts laid out on a science lab table. Metaphor does the same by not spelling out the new grounds of meaning: it just poses an image before us and our attempt to apprehend it (holisticall, continuously) does the job. 

The following short poem by Emily Dickinson (found at bartleby) illustrates the point well:

It dropped so low in my regard

I heard it hit the ground,

And go to pieces on the stones

At bottom of my mind;

 

Yet blamed the fate that fractured, less

Than I reviled myself

For entertaining plated wares

Upon my silver shelf.

 

Without spelling out what ‘it’ was and why and how it came to be discarded from its high place in the author’s mind, the intensity of the mental event, the vivacity with which the poet experienced it, the emotions associated with the whole episode, and the strong sentiments with which the poet seems to regard in general the contents of her mental life, are all immensely clear from just one reading of the poem.

There is another reason for the vividness of a metaphor, and that is its compactness (Ortony, see notes for source): By juxtaposing two apparently unrelated objects in the readers’ minds (human emotion and a flower in one of Nasir’s examples) and forcing them to envisage a new kind of relationship between them, metaphors posit endless shades of meaning for the reader’s appreciation. For instance roses’ glee could be a reference to their beauty (smiling happy faces have been often likened to flowers), to the emotion that a beautiful sight such flowers create in us (a thing of beauty is a joy forever), to the purity associated with sights of nature, to the freshness of flowers, to their swaying on their stalks like children swinging gaily, to the pleasant sensation generated through their smell, etc. All these shades of meaning and more have been packed into a single two-word phrase, what Ortony calls the ‘compactness thesis’ of his theory.

 

The memorability of a metaphor

Compactness, vividness, and irreplacibility make for a memorable image: well-suited for educational purposes. In class-room, it were always the skillful lecturers who made the often remote-from-routine-life concepts of __ math, physics, medicine, psychology __ alive in our imagination so that we could picture them easily (and even enjoy the lecture!) that were more successful. Not possible without good metaphors:

The educational power of metaphors is thus twofold. The vivid imagery arising from metaphorical comprehension encourages memorability and generates of necessity a better, more insightful, personal understanding. But also, it is a very effective device for moving from well-known to the less well-known, from vehicle to topic.  

__ Ortony, (p. 17)

Humanliness of the literary metaphor 

Literature’s world is a concrete human world of immediate experience. The poet uses images and objects and sensations much more than he uses abstract ideas … The world of literature is human in shape, … where the primary realities are not atoms or electrons but bodies, and the primary forces are not energy or gravitation but love and death and passion and joy.

__ Northrop Frye↓8

Human beings become human through the acquisition of language, and the acquisition alienates humans from all those things language names. The name is a substitute for the thing, it displaces the thing in the very act of naming it, so that language finally stands even between one human being and another. Much of our poetry has been written to undo this situation, to remove the veil of language that covers everything with a false familiarity… 

__ Robert Scholes↓9

… literary metaphor depicts the themes that occasion it, communicating meaning imagistically by rendering it presentational.

__ Phillip Stambovsky↓10

The success of the  metaphor thus lies in recreating for us the lively vivid life in our reading experience which is so close to us. Thus it most effectively performs its fundamental function in literature: giving it the human shape we need to connect with it; and, as Stambovsky reminds us, performs it in the very manner so essentially familiar to us. This latter feature of the metaphor may be called intimation through a metaphor and is psychologically enticing and influential for the reader…

 

Intimation through metaphor

There is a unique way in which the maker and appreciator of metaphor are drawn closer to one another. Three aspects are involved: (1) the speaker issues a kind of concealed invitation; (2) the hearer expends a special effort to accept the invitation; and (3) this transaction constitutes the acknowledgment of a community.

__ Ted Cohen↓11

Perhaps the reason why so many metaphors have a peculiarly poignant beauty is because each of them kindles in us momentarily a dim memory of the time when we lost the outer world–when we first realized the outer world is outside, and we are unbridgeably apart from it, and alone. Furthermore, the mutual sharing of such metaphorical experience would seem, thus, to be about as intimate a psychological contact as adult human beings can have with one another.

__ Harold Searle↓12

Some authors even believe that the force of a metaphor’s image can lead to an exchange of material from the unconscious to conscious mind in the reader (in Rogers, p. 11). We must now consider what exactly constitutes this force; what is it in a metaphor that leads to such influence. Let us see.

 

The metaphor can be disclosive in the sense of being an eye-opener, helping us to understand hidden relations between the [target and source].

and  

Poetic devices and imaginative literature do not necessarily provide us with new information. What they do best is to give us insight into the (tacit) knowledge we already possess.

__ Snaevarr↓13

Both Snaevarr and Stambovsky associate certain terms with metaphorical comprehension that help us realize how metaphor induces an intimate connection with the author, the subject-matter, and, potentially, the world at large. Snaevarr argues how, when we understand a metaphor, we go through the same process of ‘seeing something as something’ involved in many instances of purely sense-based perception. For instance, when an object (such as a cat) is before us, typically, we merely notice what it is. Here our knowledge/concept of the object helps us quickly recognize it: perception nearly depends here on pre-existing knowledge. But when an ambiguous oil painting is presented before us and, while appreciating it, it suddenly ‘dawns’ on us that it depicts a beautiful cat: that is what Wittgenstein↓14 called ‘seeing as’.

from wikipedia 

An easy-to-relate example would be of the famous Necker cube which can be seen either as a cube projecting away from us on its northeast side or as a cube projecting on its southwest side. This kind of seeing-as is internal and spontaneous: external descriptions do not necessarily lead us to see the two different possible cubes in our mind, it has to come from within. There is also a kind of filtering and ‘foregrounding’ involved. When our mental image switches from one possible cube to the other, the first one seems to disappear and certain features of the new cube seem to ‘lighten up’ in the image. The same happens when the meaning intended by the metaphor dawns on us. The metaphor foregrounds a part and when we appreciate it a new meaning dawns on us, or an old obscure or forgotten meaning lightens up with new significance, or a subtly familiar one is brought into explicit focus.

When applied to less visual material, such a seeing-as is better termed ‘insight’: understanding the inner nature of things. The process of insight is both intuitive (that is, it does not involve conscious reasoning) and spontaneous. It also has the quality of an ‘enlightment’ and is often (specially in problem solving) sudden. It gives a feeling of familiarity with the subject in question by suddenly casting it for us in a new light (in the above stated ‘seeing as’ fashion) that we were not able to appreciate before (see famous cognitive psychologist Herbert Simon‘s paper for good descriptions of both intuition and insight). The kind of effective lectures I mentioned before created this in us: a feeling that now we really knew the topic, we knew how things really worked, how it really feels. Good metaphors achieve the same effect. Perhaps that is why:

Metaphors which provide insight into an unknown, transcendent, or mysterious subject thus can have an extremely powerful effect on those who accept them.

__ Stallman↓15 

As Snaevarr clarifies, what metaphor really does is to lighten up a piece of tacit knowledge we already possessed. The most comprehensive definition of tacit knowledge that I could find online is that it is:

Unwritten, unspoken, and hidden vast storehouse of knowledge held by practically every normal human being, based on his or her emotions, experiences, insights, intuitions, observations and internalized information. 

Indeed the feeling of intimacy and closeness will not be produced if we did not realize that the metaphor focused us on a thought or feeling we were familiar with but had never been consciously aware of. For instance consider the following verses by Nasir Kazmi, in translation by me along with the original Urdu in Roman script:

 

On the town’s vacant station

A passenger must have alighted

[shehr ke khali station per

koi musafir utra hoga]

_

 Hear it immersed in the depths of heart

No song is indeed a song of glee…

[dil ki gehrayion mein doob ke dekh

koi naghma khushi ka naghma nahin]

_

Shivering, the long nights put to us a haunting question

Their laden sound-like silence hisses answers…

[ye thitri hue lambi raaten kuch poochti hein

ye khamushi-e avaaz numa kuch kehti he]

_

In your lane all day

I pick the pebbles of grief

[teri gali mein sara din

dukh ke kankar chunta hoon]

_

From the nameless reaches of the islands of memory

The waves of your voice still reach

 [yad ke benishan jazeeron se

teri avaaz arehi he abhi]

 

These verses conjure up in us strange unspeakable feelings (and certainly many more shades of the atmosphere related to) respectively, lonely change or movement through life; the sombre sadness associated with awareness of existential realities that give rise to creative expression; introspection on the nature of our existence that typically transpires in the dark and silent moments of night before we fall asleep; the rambling recall of the many pleasures of a friendship after it has terminated; and the persisting subconscious connection with a long lost love… experiences we have all encountered in life, directlyor indirectly. That is why we relate to them and their author, and feel affected by them.

Metaphors are closer to emotional reality for the same reasons that they are closer to perceptual experience. To say of an unexpexted event that it was a miracle is to say far more than that it was inexplicable: it is to express joy, admiration , wonder, awe and a host of other things without mentioning any of them.

__ Andrew Ortony↓16

Remember that tacit knowledge encompasses a great number of sources such as bits and pieces picked up incidentally, subconsciuosly or by implication; by engaging in non-verbal skills; through general observations and readings; and knowledge of internal states personally experienced or understood through empathy. That is why, metaphor is a powerful and often the sole means of expressing our internal states. And “the particular ability of imaginative literature to disclose the unique, not least the uniquely personal” (Snaevarr, p. 361) most probably depends on metaphor.

 

The psychological power of metaphor

If a new metaphor enters the conceptual system that we base our actions on, it will alter the conceptual system and the perceptions and actions that the system gives rise to.

__ Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, p. 111

In their book Metaphors We Live By (1980), Lakoff and Johnson make the case of how metaphors do not just represent our perception of common realities, they have the power to create realities themselves. For instance, the prevalence and conventionality of the metaphor “argument is war” not only represents but also reinforces in turn a culture of argumentation where it is viewed as competitive rather than as a cooperative social exercise; whereby it is supposed to be won or lost rather than as taken to be a means of forwarding consensual decisions.

Consider the example of a fresh metaphor: ‘problems are solutions’, where solution is used in the chemical sense of the word. Actually, the authors took the metaphor from a real example of their Iranian student who thought that the expression ‘the solution of my problems’ was metaphorical. The student visualized “a large volume of liquid, bubbling and smoking, containing all of your problems, either dissolved or in the form of precipitates, with catalysts constantly dissolving some problems (for the time being) and precipitating out others”. The metaphor is not actually in use anywhere, but, as Lakoff and Johnson demonstrate how this metaphor creates a new, more profitable view of ‘problems’ than is currently prevalent. In this new view, derived from the new meaning constructed by the metaphorical comparison of real-life problems with a chemical solution, problems are accepted as a more or less recurring part of life. We use certain catalysts which temporarily solve some problems but the same process, or the disturbance in the combinations of catalysts created by a single-instance usage may lead to the precipitation of some other problem. “Rather than direct your energies toward solving your problems once and for all, you would direct your energies toward finding out what catalysts will dissolve your most pressing problems for the longest time without precipitating out worse ones. The reappearance of a problem is viewed as a natural occurence rather than as a failure on your part to find “the right way to solve it”.”

In contrast the more current view of problems as puzzles reinforces the expectation that there is one solution to each problem, that once applied, it will make the problem go forever. Recurrence of the problem implies a failure on the part of our ability to solve it. While the problem lasts, a state of confusion and frantic attempts to solve it and resolve it continue. Etc, etc.

Similarly, James Geary mentions research to the effect that when finance journalists use ‘agent metaphors’ to describe stock market behavior (such as ‘prices climbed higher’, or ‘the market fought back’) “an enduring internal goal or disposition” is inferred with the implication that the trend “is likely to continue tomorrow” (p. 31). In fact, it is in this sense of metaphor’s effects that scholars such as Lakoff and Johnson have highlighted the political, or let’s say, ideological power of metaphor…

 

The ideological power of metaphor

  

The people who get to impose their metaphors on the culture get to define what we consider to be true.

__ Lakoff and Johnson↓17  

What therefore is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms: in short a sum of human relations which became poetically and rhetorically intensified, metamorphosed, adorned, and after long usage seem to a nation fixed, canonic and binding;

 __ Friedrich Nietzsche↓18 (in James Geary, p. 116)

Indeed we are familiar with presidential candidates, regimes, or factions in society popularizing and reinforcing ‘pet metaphors’ in their followers’ minds to ingrain their preferred sets of attitudes — their ideology. Similar examples can be given from the domain of religion. The budhist’s wheel of life and the muslim’s Straight Path are presented metaphorically, binding important aspects of their faith, creating their spiritual reality for them, defining the meaning and purpose of life to them, and motivating important attitudes and behaviors in each.

[This is not the place to argue, however, on the absolute relativity (or not) of truth (a topic with which this blog though is very much concerned and is yet to present a full-fledged treatment of the problem; though the topic has been touched upon in various posts).]

After having explored the concept of metaphor, establishing its power and significance from the point of view of both the sender and receiver of a communication, we are now set to see how the topic relates to the Quranic corpus. It’s easy to find all kinds of metaphors in Qur’an; important systems of extended conceptual metaphors that present, educate, and penetrate to the heart and mind of it’s readers; beautiful, visualizable, and novel, original metaphors that capture the sentient nature of its target audience and leave lasting and powerful impressions; metaphors so original and absolute as they must be for depicting realities beyond the periphery of ordinary human perception.

I feel excited at this point of my journey in the realm of the Metaphor. For these past few months, having thought about familiar metaphors from the Quran against all my developing understanding of metaphors in general now makes me feel as if I am approaching the great universe of the Qur’an with fresh eyes.

Till then, fi aman-i Allah

Notes

1. Olaf Jakel (2002). Hypotheses revisited: The cognitive theory of metaphor applied to religious texts, metaphoric.de, vol. 2, pp. 20-42. Found at http://www.metaphorik.de/02/jaekel.pdf

2. Ortony, A. (1975). Why metaphors are necessary and not just nice. Reprinted in Cultural Metaphors: Readings, research translations, and commentary, Ed. M. J. Gannon, 2001, Sage Publications. Found at http://books.google.co.in/books?id=Ih0BUezsl6kC&printsec=frontcover

3. Johnson (1980), taken from Bob Stallman (1999), Divine hospitality in the Pentateuch: A metaphorical perspective on God as host. PhD Dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, pp. 40-41. Found at http://eagle.northwestu.edu/faculty/bob-stallman/files/2011/03/2.pdf

4. Sam Gluckseburg (2008). How metaphors create categories — quickly. In Metaphor and Thought, 2nd ed., Ed. Raymond W. Gibbs. Cambridge University Press. Found at ftp://ftp.turingbirds.com/ai/The%20Cambridge%20Handbook%20of%20Metaphor%20and%20Thought.pdf

5. Paul Henle, (1958), Metaphor. Reprinted in Philosphical Perspectives on Metaphor, Ed. Mark Johnson, 1980, University of Minnesota Press, p. 102

6. Rogers, R. (1978). Metaphor: A psychoanalytical perspective. University of California Press, p. 7. Found at http://books.google.com/books?id=zxH3W27COqgC&printsec=frontcover

7. (1975), from Cultural metaphors, pp. 16-17

8. N. Frye (1964) found in Phillip Stambovsky’s (1988), The depictive image: Metaphor and literary experience, University of Massachusetts Press, p. 50.

9. Scholes (1985) in Stambovsky, 1988, p. 89.

10. Stambovsky, 1988, p. 3

11. T. Cohen (1978) from Stallman (1999), p. 44

12. Harold Searle, Collected Papers on Schizophrenia. Quoted in Rogers, 1978, p. xi

13. Stefan Snaevarr (2010). Metaphors, narratives, emotions: Their interplay and impact, Rodopi, Amsterdam, p. 83 and p. 360 respectively.

14. Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is credited with this conceptamong many others he theorized upon in his now classic Philosophical investigations. For a simple explanation of his concept read point 1 of this lecture presentation: http://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/teaching_staff/ahmed/WittgensteinPhilosophicalInvestigationsLecture15.pdf

15. Stallman (1999), p. 41

16. in Cultural metaphors, p. 17

17. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980). Metaphors we live by. Originally published by University of Chicago Press. Found online at: http://www.pineforge.com/upm-data/6031_Chapter_10_O’Brien_I_Proof_5.pdf

18. in James Geary, (2011), I is an Other: The secret life of metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world, Harper Collins, p. 116.

 

 

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RUMI REVELATIONS: Wisdom, not reason

In consciousness, excerpts and quotes, literature, Rumi Revelations, sources of knowledge, spirituality on September 15, 2011 at 8:57 pm

In today’s edition of Rumi revelations, the commentary I have interspersed my selections with relates these more directly with the discussion of the last post.

 

In:

A COMMUNITY OF THE SPIRIT↓1

 

There is a community of the spirit.

Join it, and feel the delight

of walking in the noisy street,

and being the noise.

.

Drink all your passion,

and be a disgrace.

.

Close both eyes

to see with the other eye.

.

Open your hands,

if you want to be held.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel

the shepherd’s love filling you.

Be empty of worrying.

Think of who created thought!

.

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?

__________________

A QUATRAIN↓2

How long will we fill our pockets

Like children with dirt and stones?

Let the world go. Holding it

We never know ourselves, never are air-born.

_______________________

The essence of our nature is “experiential”. We experience things at first hand in such a way that the emotional, sensorial, social, intellectual, and linguistic sides are enmeshed with each other↓3. The ‘pragmatic’ world however teaches us to think purely in intellectual terms: concepts, logic, and language. Thus we come to dissociate subject matters of study from the daily reality of our lives and from the intricacies of our personality,  and from the way we are actually designed to experience the world. Subject matters which are all connected to the reality of ourself and our world, which lead us to significant questions of the meaningfulness of our lives, they are experienced as ‘dry’, ‘boring’ or ‘pedantic’ by many a student for these reasons.

Even those supposedly at the highest levels of intellectual development come to emphasize rationalism and intellectualism at the expense of the social, emotional, and intuitive sides of our nature possibly because of the natural association of language with the former approaches to life. And perhaps also becuase of the illsuion of certainty which logic creates. The social-emotional side of experience does not deal with ‘arguments’ and ‘logic’, rationalism does. Also the apparent comfort of the unemotionality of dry reason may be a source of refuge for these scholars who having lost touch with their affective intuitions must now feel all the more perturbed recasting ‘the big questions of the world’ in purely intuitive and experiential terms rather than (‘safely’ and ‘distantly’) dissecting and pruning them according to their own scholarly specializations.

And thus the majority of us remain confined in the ‘jail’ of this rationality, never having the strength to step out and experience the huge possibilities of meaningfulness and deeper ecstasies of life once the shackles of pure reason are thrown away.

______________________

QUIETNESS↓4

 

Inside this new love, die.

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.

Escape.

Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.

Do it now.

You’re covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side. Die,

and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign

that you’ve died.

Your old life was a frantic running

from silence.

.

The speechless full moon

comes out now.

__________________

In:

THE THREE BROTHERS AND THE CHINESE PRINCESS↓5

                              The fire under the kettle is the appearance.

The boiling water is the reality.

                                                                The beloved is in your veins

though he or she may seem to have a form outside you.

________________________________

In:

AN AWKWARD COMPARISON↓6

Language does not touch the one

who lives in each of us.

_______________________

 We become so conditioned by the ways of this world, we never realize that the access to the mysteries of the more actual reality is on the side of experience we abandoned many many years ago: the inside. There are several commonalities between death and our inside. One of them is silence. The silence of death is obvious. Our inside is indeed silent in terms of it’s nature being pre-verbal. Intuition, emotion, and the phenomenon of simple ‘immersion’ in some experience (in contrast to consciously thinking and analyzing it) are ‘holistic’ in nature: they can’t be broken down into components and laws (in contrast with, say, language which has parts of speech and rules of grammar). They are also intransferable. One’s inner experience simply cannot be translated ‘as is’ for other’s perfect understanding, or transmitted somehow into their minds. Thus our inner experience is as uniquely ours and only ours to go through as death will be.

On the other hand, the ‘worldly’ knowledges possess both these characteristics and hence often succeed too perfectly in capturing our conscious lives int their hold. Just like death will finally remove this curtain of wordly ‘outside’ experience and we will realize what we could not see before, reconnecting with our silent inner experiecne can achieve the same before the time of death arrives. May be it’s this potential of this inner side of things and the superficial comfort and time-passing quality of the outer wordly side of life that many of us literally run away from any moments of silence. Movies, games, gossip, shopping, feasting, drugs, fashion, or illicit meetings with the other sex, anything will do so as time alone (= time with oneself, when inner voices become less avoidable) will not have to be confronted.

__________________

When once, however, the inner mirror has come clear of the breath of the outer world, recognizing the truth is not that difficult:

 

MYSTICS KNOW↓7

 

Since wisdom is the true believer’s stray camel*, he knows it with certainty

               from whomsoever, he may have heard of it,

And when he finds himself face to face with it, how should there be doubt?

               How can he mistake?

If you tell a thirsty man — ‘Here is a cup of water: drink!’–

Will he reply? — ‘This is mere assertion: let me alone, O liar, go away.’

Or suppose a mother cries to her babe, ‘Come, I am mother: hark my child!’ —

Will it say? — ‘Prove this to me, so that I may take comfort in thy milk.’

When in the heart of a people there is spiritual perception, the face and voice

               of the prophet are as an evidentiary miracle.

When the prophet utters a cry from without, the soul of the people falls to

               worship within,

Because never in the world will the soul’s ear have heard a cry of the same

               kind as his.

That wondrous voice is heard by the soul in exile — the voice of God calling, ‘Lo, I am nigh.’

*A reference to a saying attributed to Hazrat Ali (razi-Allahu unh): “The faithful seek the knowledge of God which they possessed in past eternity and recognize it immediately when found.”  

_______________________

 

Notes:

1. Translated by Coleman Barks, in Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets: RUMI, p. 32-33

2. Translated by Andrew Harvey, in above, p. 60.

3. Even neuroscientists have now studied the brain to the extent of realizing that the brain indeed works in such a ‘holistic’ fashion. There may be separate brain areas specializing in certaint types of experience (for instance vision, sound, language, emotions, etc) but they are all interconnected and are working together whenever we are learning something somewhere. [Readings on topics such as ‘neural circuits’ and ‘plasticity of the brain’ will lead any reader to authentic primary sources.]Psychologists have studied a small part of this phenomenon called as learning by conditioning: When the emotional or social sides are vivid, we come to associate them forever with the new conept we have learned. For instance, reading a certain poem may always give happy feelings not just because it talks about a peaceful moment in life but beause we used to read it in our childhood in some pleasant family circumstance. Similarly some topics are forever emotionally aversive to us because of the negative attitudes of the teacher.

4. Translated by Coleman Barks, in same as 1 & 2, p. 69.

5. Translated by above, in above, pp. 111-8.

6. Same as above, p. 139.

7. Translated by Reynold Nicholson, in same as 1, 2, 4, 5, & 6, pp. 132-3.

 

RUMI REVELATIONS: True knowledge, and actual ignorance

In excerpts and quotes, God, literature, philosophy, poetry, Quran, Rumi Revelations, sources of knowledge, The Method on September 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm

The insights revealed by literature are sometimes more powerful and incisive than the best of sciences…

I have found many extracts from Rumi’s spiritual outpourings that expand and illuminate on the current topic of this blog.

My interspersed commentary is an attempt to both link the extracts and make them more accessible to readers. Note that any underlining in the excerpted poetry is mine.

 

Rumi on the true versus the weak sources of real knowledge↓:

1. A QUATRAIN

Ignorent men  are the soul’s enemy

Shatter the jar of smug words

Cling for life to those who know

Prop a mirror in water, it rusts

———-

We are coming straight from a discussion with the upshot that how science, despite all the progress it has incurred, must still fall short on revealing the true nature of this world and the truest guidelines for human living. It’s the divine which makes up for this lack in our lives, not the human. The wordy lectures and papers of the self-claimed ‘learned’ men while ‘informative’, actually tell us nothing about what we really need to know.

____________________________________________

2. A QUATRAIN

Reason, leave now! You’ll not find wisdom here!

Were you thin as a hair, there’d still be no room.

The Sun is risen! In its vast dazzle

Every lamp is drowned.

—————-

From:

3. STORY WATER

Water, stories, the body,

all the things we do, are mediums

that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,

and enjoy this being washed

with a secret we sometimes know

and then not.

————

4. From

GOD IN NATURE

Ascend from materiality into the world of spirits, hearken to the loud voice of the universe;

Then thou wilt know that God is glorified by all inanimate things: the doubts raised by false interpreters will not beguile thee.

———————–

5. From

IMMEDIATE KNOWLEDGE

Come, recognize that your sensation and imagination and understanding are like the reed-cane on which children ride.

The spiritual man’s knowledge bears him aloft; the sensual man’s knowledge is a burden.

God hath said, Like an ass laden with books: heavy is the knowledge that is not inspired by Him;

But if you carry it for no selfish ends, the load will be lifted and you will feel delight.

____________________________________________________________________

God with His Brilliance and Actuality certainly pales any other source of enlightenment and illumination possible. Not only that, Our Creator’s mysterious workings and intricate powers seem to have enmeshed themselves with the fabric of the ‘apparent’ world created for our temporary existence. Such that the closest possible examination of any corner or pattern on the tapestry of this world either blinds us (given the Dazzle of the Source of things). Burdened by the contradictory and mutative conclusions from our observations and the enigma of explaining what we can see and can’t see in the terms of our limited understanding, we remain ignorant and indifferent to the Light. Or, we experience a touch of the dazzle ourselves in form of awe, wonderment, a sense of being in the presence of the Sacred, and a sweet and submissive urge to bow down our heads before this Source.

______________________

6. A QUATRAIN

Body of earth, don’t talk of earth

Tell the story of pure mirrors

The Creator has given you this splendour —

Why talk of anything else?

—————-

From:

7. IF YOU DON”T HAVE

you’ve carved a wooden horse

riding and calling it real

fooling yourself in life

though only a wooden horse

ride it again my friend

and gallop to the next post

you’ve never really listened

to what God has always

tried to tell you

—————–

In the physical world, every level of existence (such as the cultural, the individual, the biological, the chemical, and the subatomical) requires it’s own set of explanatory processes and phenomena. How can we claim to deduce understandings of how this world was created by restricting ourselves to the level of this earth? This will never be possible, unless we stop taking the things of this earth as the end of the road, as the literal reality itself. We must take them instead as signs, pointers or mirrors to the deeper nature of things at a level far far beyond the earthly. Instead of restricting ourselves to the details of this earth, we should move ahead to what this detail signifies: the magnificence, the splendour, the sublimity of how it all came to be.

_____________________

8. A QUATRAIN

I have lived on the lip

of insanity, wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door. It opens.

I’ve been knocking from the inside!

—————–

And so external observations are not the end of the road for the one earnest seeker of the Truth. After you’ve completed your observations, then, like Ibrahim, you must close the door of externality and turn on the fountain of contemplation from within.

___________________________

From:

9. THE TRUTH WITHIN US

‘Twas a fair orchard, full of trees and fruit

And vines and greenery. A Sufi there

Sat with eyes closed, his head upon his knee,

Sunk deep in meditation mystical.

‘Why,’ asked another, ‘dost thou not behold

These Signs of God the Merciful displayed

Around thee, which He bids us contemplate?’

‘The signs,’ he answered, I behold within;

Without is naught but symbols of the Signs.’

—————–

God has already planted the germs for recognizing the truth within us. When we trun inwards, rather than remaining blinded by the tangled mechanisms of the outer world, we come to access and reinstill these germs.

_________

From

10. THE TREASURE-SEEKER

That which is real is nearer than the neck-artery, and you have shot the arrow of thought far afield.

The philosopher kills himself with thinking. Let him run on: his back is turned to the treasure.

Most of those destined for Paradise are simpletons, so that they escape from the mischief of philosophy.

While the clever ones are pleased with the device, the simple ones rest, like babes, in the bosom of the Deviser.

————————

The huge enterprise of science is not even needed to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Those who know the art of looking within (rather than remaining stuck on the without) for answers, even if they lack the material sophistication of the externalists, have more easily acquired that personal and intimate connection with our God that we either are magnetically attracted to or crazily run away from.

____________________________________________________________________________________

I finish with an ayah and a quatrain…

إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّـهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ 

OF ALL His servants, only such as are endowed with [innate] knowledge stand [truly] in awe of God. (in Sura Fatir, 28)

 

11. A QUATRAIN

I know nothing any more, except

That knowing you, I know the source

Of Knowing ; this fire-spring you pull me in

Sometimes, where ‘you’ and ‘I’ burn.

 

Notes

All translations have been taken from the Rumi edition of the Everyman’s Library of Pocket Poets. In order of appearance of quoted poems, here are the translaters with page number references.

  1. Andrew Harvey, p. 60
  2. Andrew Harvey, p. 62
  3. Coleman Barks, p. 86
  4. Nicholson, p. 128
  5. Nicholson, p.130
  6. same as 2
  7. Nader Khalili, pp. 76-7
  8. Coleman Barks, p.84
  9. Nicholson, p. 93
  10. Nicholson, p. 96-7
  11. Andrew Harvey, p. 163

 

 

RUMI REVELATIONS: Understanding Ramadaan through Rumi

In excerpts and quotes, literature, poetry, psychology of religion, Ramadaan, Rumi Revelations on August 23, 2011 at 1:07 am

RAMADAN SILENCE*

 

When the Ramadan banner flies, soul restrains nature,

so it can taste its own foodl

 

The strength of horses and the intensity of fire,

these are the powers of sacrifice.

Fasting, we honor the guest.

 

Clouds of courage give rain,

because it was in this month that the Qur’an rained down,

light through an opening.

 

Grab the rope.

Be lifted out of the body’s pit.

 

Announce to Egypt, Joseph of Canaan has come.

Jesus dismounts the donkey,

and the sacramental table descends.

 

Wash your hands. Wash your face.

Do not eat or speak as you normally do.

Other food and other words will come in the silence.

_________________________________

 

The concept of silence here symbolizes the fast. The silent person side-steps from the usual impulse to talk and to speak up his mind. This willing evacuation of the mind of petty distraction of conversation makes room for wisdom and insight. 

Rumis says this more eloquently in the following ghazal couplets**:

 

If you want your every atom to be eloquent and a poet,

don’t place your faith in poetry and prose, be silent.

 

If you start to talk, you will stray from your thought.

Don’t stray from your heart’s intent. Stay away from talk.

___________________________________________

 

Fast performs similar functions for us on a much broader scale. Why does performing acts God loves, with great frequency, length and recurrence become much easier in Ramadaan, than at other times? It’s not just because of the extra incentive we have in form of hope for extra reward; it’s not just due to being reinforced and encouraged by seeing nearly everyone around doing more. The fast frees us from the constant chain of distractions that our bodily ties of food and drink provide us through the day. Ordinarily, we remain mentally bound by one concern followed by another. Since hunger and thirst are of the body, naturally, other bodily and personal interests take forte as well and keep us occupied. Even when we think of doing something ‘extra’, we get lazy, feel busy, or simply forget amid the ‘stimulus overload’.

Fast provides a calm for the whole day. It also changes the schedule of daily life, thus helping to reinforce the change. The calm and peace resulting from a control on bodily hungers also weakens the force of other personal desires and lusts. Although, we feel the nutrient deprivation, we don’t even feel as much hungry as we would if we could not eat on time on a regular day. All this ‘stimulus underload’ paves the way for the better and nobler instincts of our psyche to come forward and to take lead.

If a mosque was full of chatter and banter, how could it inspire noble meditations, pious intentions and love-filled inclinations? It is the vast seclusion of the typical mosque from everything earthy and wordly that encourages those honorable attitudes.

And then….

 

A QUATRAIN^

 

This fasting sifts the soul like a sieve,

Discovering the hidden flecks of gold.

Once the soul outshines the brilliant moon,

It will tear up the veil and light up the seventh heaven.

 

 

Notes

* Translated by Coleman Barks in Rumi: The Big Red Book, 2010, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, p. 273

** Translated by Iraj Anvar and Anne Twitty in Say Nothing: Poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi in Persian and English, 2008, Sandpoint: Morning Light Press, p. 17.

^ Translated by the same as above, p. 19.

RUMI REVELATIONS: Is there anything left to say?

In excerpts and quotes, God, literature, poetry, Rumi Revelations, spirituality on August 18, 2011 at 11:01 pm

I ended my last post with the above statement.

After reading through all the reminders of our Gentle and Loving God, there can only be spontaneous outpourings from the heart (or from the eyes); tongue is amazed into silence.

And what better way than to capture the outpourings than to let Maulana Rumi talk…

The spontaneous outpourings of the humble heart…

 

From:

THE TALKING↓1

I have come here to lay my head at your feet,

to ask forgiveness,

to sit in the rose chair and burn my thorns.

 

Whatever I thought to do,

when I am here with you, is nothing.

Make my face yours.

I will shorten this poem.

Read the rest inside me.

________________________

Where Love reigns…

 

From:

BOTH WINGS BROKEN↓2

Love draws a dagger and pulls me close.

Lock and key. Bird with both wings broken.

 

The love religions is all that is written here.

Who else would say this?

 

You open me wide open, or you tie me tighter.

The ball waits on the field to be hit again.

 

You push me into fire like Abraham.

You pull me out like Mohammed.

 

Which do you like better? you ask.

All the same, if it is your hand, troubles or peace.

—–

Then comes the sure attention

of a mother’s hand for her hurt child.

____________________________

So, how to begin…?

 

From:

LOW IN THE ROOTS↓3

Love is musk.

Do not deny it when you smell the scent.

____________________________

And then…

 

From:

AND HE IS WITH US↓4

And He is with you means He is searching with you.

He is nearer to you than yourself. Why look outside?

Become like melting snow; wash yourself of yourself.

With love your inner voice will find a atongue

growing like a silent white lily in the heart.

______________________________

Finally:

How to call up this Love?

 

IN EVERY BREATH↓5

In every breath

if you’re the center

of your own desires

you’ll lose the grace

of your beloved

 

but if in every breath

you blow away

your self claim

the ecstasy of love

will soon arrive

 

in every breath

if you’re the center

of your own thoughts

the sadness of autumn

will fall on you

 

but if in every breath

you strip naked

just like a winter

the joy of spring

will grow from within

 

all your impatience

comes from the push

for gain of patience

let go of the effort

and peace will arrive

 

all your unfulfilled desires

are from your greed

for gain of fulfillments

let go of them all

and they will be sent as gifts

 

fall in love with

the agony of love

not the ecstasy

then the beloved

will fall in love with you

 

 

Notes

1, 2 & 3. Translated by Coleman Barks in Rumi: The Big Red Book, 2010, New York: Harper Collins.

4. Translated by Kabir Helminski in Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets: Rumi

5. Translated by Nader Khalili in above.

 

 

Related Posts in this blog:

Past Rumi Revelations

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: How God relates to His subjects

RUMI REVELATIONS: The Root of the Root

In excerpts and quotes, literature, poetry, Rumi Revelations, spirituality on August 14, 2011 at 3:48 am

Immediately after doing my last post of Qur’an in Ramadaan, I found the following two poems of Rumi in an astonishingly close approximation with the thesis of that post and the ones before. This time round I attempt to append my commentary on stanzas from the first poem to make the connections clearer. The second poem is too plain to need further illumination, I think. Both poems are highly motivational, uplifting, and rejuvenating as is indeed nearly all the poetry of the famed poet.

 

From:

THE ROOT OF THE ROOT OF YOUR SELF↓1

 

Don’t go away, come near.

Don’t be faithless, be faithful.

Find the antidote in the venom.

Come to the root of the root of your Self.

 

Molded of clay, yet kneaded

from the substance of certainty,

a guard at the Treasury of Holy Light —

come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

 

Once you get hold of selflessness,

you’ll be dragged from your ego

and freed from many traps.

Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

 

You are born from the children of God’s creation,

but you have fixed your sight too low.

How can you be happy?

Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

 

Although you are a talisman protecting a treasure,

you are also the mine.

Open your hidden eyes

and come to the root of the root of your Self.

 

You were born from a ray of God’s majesty

and have the blessings of a good star.

Why suffer at the hands of things that don’t exist?

Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

 

You are a ruby embedded in granite.

How long will you pretend it isn’t true?

We can see it in your eyes.

Come to the root of the root of your Self.

DON’T BE BITTER MY FRIEND↓2

 

don’t be bitter my friend

you’ll regret it soon

hold to your togetherness

or surely you’ll scatter

 

don’t walk away gloomy

from this garden

you’ll end up like an owl

dwelling in old ruins

 

face the war and

be a warrior like a lion

or you’ll end up like a pet

tucked away in a stable

 

once you conquer

your selfish self

all your darkness

will change to light

 

 

Commentary

I like the term ‘the root of the root’. I wish I had access to the original Persian to see how it was expressed there. As it is, to me it reminds me of the famous adage which means: recognize yourself to recognize your God. We cannot realize the close connection we all have with our Maker unless we first establish a close connection with our own selves, accepting and facing all our limitations and faults and weaknesses for what they are.

Our nature might be transient, of clay, of atom, but our essence, the soul, is connected to one large ‘certainty’: the ultimate reality (the Treasury of Holy Light) the seed of which has already been sown inside us in form of the a-lastu bi rabbikum dialogue.

 In entangling ourselves with petty worldly needs and fears, we agree for a low existence; whereas real highness awaits us. It’s time to realize our potential to the fullest; that is our destiny, but we need to engage it with our own step forward.

 

Notes

1. Translated by Kabir Helminski in Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets: RUMI.

2. Translated by Nader Khalili in above.

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: The determined vs the uncertain

In excerpts and quotes, psychology of religion, Quran, Ramadaan on August 14, 2011 at 12:38 am

 12 Ramazaan, 1432:

إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا ۖ وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ 

I HAVE turned my face to Him who originated the heavens and the earth, as a man of pure faith; I am not of the idolaters.’ (Al-An’am, 79)
 
 
I came across the ayah more than a week ago in my recitation cycle but the topic once again proved very interesting and also analyzable from a psychological point of view, hence the delayed posting.
 
This line is the great conclusion to Quran’s description of Hazrat Ibrahim’s (alaihi-s salaam) deduction of the Truth from his observations.
 
Background
 
Allah ta’ala thus begins the great but succintly and beautifully described incidence in Sura An’am:  

وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُرِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ مَلَكُوتَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَلِيَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُوقِنِينَ  

AND thus We gave Abraham [his first] insight into [God’s] mighty dominion over the heavens and the earth – and [this] to the end that he might become one of those who are inwardly sure. (75)
 
 
 The lines describing the observations of the skies that Hazrat Ibrahim made before reaching his conclusions are immensely beautiful. Those familiar with tajweed should read with care (and preferably meaning in mind) for full effect:
 

فَلَمَّا جَنَّ عَلَيْهِ اللَّيْلُ رَأَىٰ كَوْكَبًا ۖ قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي ۖ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَا أُحِبُّ الْآفِلِينَ 

 فَلَمَّا رَأَى الْقَمَرَ بَازِغًا قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي ۖ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَئِن لَّمْ يَهْدِنِي رَبِّي لَأَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الضَّالِّينَ 

 فَلَمَّا رَأَى الشَّمْسَ بَازِغَةً قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي هَـٰذَا أَكْبَرُ ۖ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَتْ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِّمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ

WHEN night drew over him, he saw a star. ‘This’ he said: ‘is surely my Lord’ But when it set he said: ‘I do not like the setting ones’. (76)
WHEN he saw the rising moon, he said: ‘This is my Lord’ But when it set, he said: ‘If my Lord does not guide me, I shall surely be amongst the astray nation’. (77)
THEN, when he saw the sun rise, shining, he said: ‘This must be my Lord, it is larger’ But when it set, he said: ‘O nation I am quit of what you associate (with Allah, the Creator). (78)
 
 
Some tafaseer-al-Quran describe elaborate stories to explain how, while the sun, stars and moon are open to observation any night, Hazrat Ibrahim seems to have done his deliberation at one go. However, more moderate mufassirs such as Maulana Taqi and Maulana Maudidi remind us that collapsing relevant snippets of happennings apart in time and condensing them into a single lyrical and succint narration is a common feature of the Qur’an; wherein details that do not matter at the place are simply left out. So here it seems.
 
What is apparent is that despite being raised in an environment where idolatory and worship of celestial bodies was the absolute custom and his own father was a respected sculptor of idols, Hazrat Ibrahim probably retained his doubts since the beginning, and after his observations and thinking, finally reject once and for all such ‘obviously’ ‘created’ ‘things’. He realized that something which is subject to such a firm set of rules and cannot deviate from those rules (of rising and shining and setting on a tic-toc schedule) cannot be the creator itself, and doesn’t really merit the designation of ‘deity’ that his society had accorded it. The one who must have created these large floating bodies in the skies must be the Sole Creator.
 
We know that he used to think nothing of the sculpted idols of his nation on grounds that they are powerless and really helpless sittting dolls that cannot eat or speak (in Sura Al-Anbya and Sura As-Saaffaat).  Thus after final deliberations regarding the religious customs of his nation, he turned away from all false gods and declared his allegiance to the Sole God in the words that make up the focused ayah of this post.
 
There is one major concept in one word of this ayah that I wish to share with my readers:
 
 
Hanif: the upright, the pure-faith one, the focused
 
Although my search in online Arabic dictionaries mostly yielded the meaning ‘upright’, wikipedia describes hanif as a term for one having the pure monotheistic faith typical of Muslims. The reference to Hazrat Ibrahim is obvious since he rejected other idols in favor of the Sole God. In one Qur’an search engine↓1, I found the following description of the root ha-nun-fa that makes up hanif:
 
To lean to one side, incline, turn away from error to guidance, incline to the right religion, stand firmly on one side, leave a false religion and turn to right.
 
In addition, in Urdu translations of Quran I have often read the word yek-su as a proper rendering of the concept. ‘yek’ means one and ‘su’ means direction. Whole, the word again refers to one who has got rid of other distractions and now sticks firmly to one well-chosen side.
 
All the meanings of the word hanif have a close relation to the above history of Hazrat Ibrahim (alaihi-s salaam). Naturally so, since Allah Himself associates the word so often with the prophet, throughout the Quran. (Basic root search on tanzil.net will confirm that 8 out of 12 times, the word is used in connection with the prophet, including the ayah above. The remaining instances are interpreted to have similar meanings as already referred to).
 
 
Of being hanif and ‘determination’
 
Later history of Hazrat Ibrahim confirms that once having made his decision, he was tested as fiercely as anybody could and yet did not deviate for the slightest moment from the firmness of his belief. How did he make such a strong decision that he turned out to be so determined? Apart from his being a prophet, the qualities of his decision-making are worth examining for our own learning. Many people in the world do not have the strength to make such a strong decision at all; many others (like us), when they do, are not so stoically adherent to it as he was all his life: we keep faltering, forgetting, ignoring, or chickening out.
 
 
The process of decision-making
 
Decision-making is obviously a mental process. It begins when a person is faced with a set of alternatives in the environment. The process is not restricted to humans; however, the scale from simple organisms to humans increases in complexity: the situations posing alternatives are complex, and some alternatives are not even directly related to sensory information (Berthoz, p. 86 in Plmerol, 2010, see below for reference link). The decision Hazrat Ibrahim had to make (it was in his younghood, certainly well before Allah Ta’ala guided him through His message) was thus a very complex one: multitude of choices well-embedded in his environment against the One choice for which no salient sensory help was available.
 
Back to theory: each alternative is weighed in terms of costs and benefits before settling on one. Now what costs and benefits the young Ibrahim must have considered, indeed, which must have propelled him towards his deliberations as desirable incentives vs aversive risks. I think the answer must be the contrast between nobility vs lowness that I have already posed in my last Ramadaan post. As a resummary I will quote one famous line from Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, with its translation:
 

وہ ایک سجدہ جسے تو گراں سمجھتا ہے 

ہزار سجدوں سے دیتا ہے آدمی کو نجات 

[Woh ek sajda jise to giraan samajhta hai
Hazar sajdon se deta hai admi ko nijat ]
 
The one sajda that you often find difficult
Relieves you from stooping to a thousand gods
 
 
Two contrasting human tendencies that exist side-by-side in any human are the drive to avoid unncessary risk and be safe, and the urge to realize one’s true potential which entails risk-taking (Raufaste and Hilton in Polmerol, 2010, p. 475). It’s clear which tendency must have been superior in Hazrat Ibrahim (alaihi-s salaam).
 
Finally, “after a complicated physiological process involving numerous parts of the brain, a dominant solution eventually inhibits all the other possible solutions” (Polmerol, p. 177). Thus the process of decision-making ends with a final choice which may  be expressed as an action or opinion.  In Islam, however, mere declaration of monotheism earns mere name tag; action is required to be a true hanif, which Hazrat Ibrahim proved to be, earning good mention from such a High Source.
 
 
The mechanisms of decision-making
 
Ideally, decision-making would be a tight logical process. All the available alternatives would be examined with an exhaustive cost-benefit analysis for each of them; the solution would be an optimal one in consideration of all this information.  This is the rational approach to decision-making. In most cases this absolute rationality is impossible, since the human mind cannot think of all alternatives nor do a true exhaustive analysis for each of them (Simon, 1997,  in Polmerol, 2010, p.166). The reason for this is the future.
 
The variable of future makes everything uncertain. New, better alternatives may arise in the future. Chosen alternative may turn out to have unforseen consequences. Left out alternatives may turn out to be better than initially asumed. Etc. In Hazrat Ibrahim’s case, unforseen consequences did come up such as being thrown in a fire, having to leave one’s hometown, etc, but by that time future had already rewarded him with prophethood thus removing any possibility of uncertainty. But what about before the first message from God arrived, what about then?
 
In going through his deliberations, did he unconsciosly rely on recognition-primed decision-making? Now what is that? I quote wikipedia here: “Recognition-primed decision (RPD) is a model of how people make quick, effective decisions when faced with complex situations. In this model, the decision maker is assumed to generate a possible course of action, compare it to the constraints imposed by the situation, and select the first course of action that is not rejected.” The question is what suggests this first, intuitive course of action? According to one scholar (Polmerol, 2010, p. 158)↓2, such an intuition is suggested by “an affective, visual, or other stimulus” [the underlining is mine], “the recognition being that of matching to some pattern in making the decision”.
 
Above, we’ve seen that experts already recognize that in complex human decisions all alternatives are not suggested by sensory stimuli. So what could be the ‘pattern’, the ‘stimulus’ that the to-be-prophet must have recognized that was enough to embue him with such a near-certainty about his first-choice alternative? Is it that God has already embedded deep inside us some inkling of the True Reality that holds fast when all the other outside, apparent and obvious alternatives have been cancelled out by the rational mind? It turns out, He has:
 

وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِن بَنِي آدَمَ مِن ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ

 أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ ۖ قَالُوا بَلَىٰ  شَهِدْنَا ۛ

أَن تَقُولُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَـٰذَا غَافِلِينَ  

AND recall (O Prophet) when your Lord brought forth descendants from the loins of the sons of Adam, and made them witnesses against their ownselves. asking them: ‘Am I not your Lord?‘ They said: ‘Yes, we do testify.’ We did so lest you claim on the Day of Resurrection: ‘We were unaware of this.’ (Al-A’raf, 172)
 
This is an unconscious memory that will surface at the conscious level after death removes us from this ‘cover-up’ world. This is the one that guides the fortunate among the non-believing ones towards the right path. Prophethood is not an excuse for being able to connect with this memory. Many stories of conversion will attest to how an inner drive led people to see prevailing customs and conceptions for what they were and to enter the honest quest for truth which Allah does reward.  
 
Now it’s time to turn to the other end of the continuum and see what prevents us, the ordinary human beings, to have strong decision-making power in the arena of faith.
 
 
The pitfalls of decision-making
 
Decision-making is not foolproof and the two factors that make it so are risk and uncertainty. Humans have a tendency to avoid risk or losses which makes them a biased decision-maker when risks of a situation are highlighted above benefits. This is a well-known phenomenon for psychologists called as framing effect. Humans also tend to lack tolerance for ambiguity which makes uncertainty a highly unpleasant emotional and mental state. Let’s overview these major pitfalls separately.
 
 
Risky Business
 
What kind of risks dissuade people from making the right choice or from sticking to it through thick and thin given the set of alternatives we have been considering in this post?
 
…I will have to face criticism, ridicule or oppression from others who do not think as I do…. I will be cut-off from my family or friends…. I will have to sacrifice my time and effort for the sake of worship…. My lifestyle will change…. I will have to confront and quiten the arguments of friends and family…. I will lose the petty comforts I am accustomed to…. I will have to drop many low habits which were fun and cool…. I will be left alone in the world if I change my religion…. I will be accused of accepting a terrorist religion by my acquaintances… etc…
 
For many people in the world unfortunately, the negatives, the risks get to be highlighted automatically far above the benefits when they begin thinking seriously about choices of faith. There are many reasons for it. For one, the alternative choices are more prevalent, familiar and habitual,  easily accepted and taken for granted, and we fear we are leaving so many things for the sake of a big and difficult step. Others: family, friends, institutes, media, reinforce the thinking all the more. At this point, many people do not realize that people adhering more firmly and consistently to the tenets laid down by the One True God are also leading comfortable, fulfilled and happy lives though certainly within the necessary limits imposed for our own good. Another major reason is that the benefits of the Choice tend to be long-term and seem to develop gradually, whereas the benefits in the alternatives are immediate and often exuberant and flamboyant. Thus it is easy to be impatient enough to be trapped by the transient and short-term manifold pleasures.
 
Apart from that, others also have difficulty of accepting or allowing a change of thought and lifestyle in a well-intentioned person. Needs such as the need for control, authority; the belief of oneself being in the right and deigning to stop someone else from the ‘stupid’ choice; or the hidden discomfort that is caused in one’s ownself when soemone else thinks of taking the bold step on issues oneself has been ignoring, avoiding or running away from… all these factors play a role so that our own acquaintances are sometimes the biggest barrier in taking the right steps.
 
These difficulties confuse the purpose and feul the intensity of the many uncertainties that have already troubled the changing person’s mind.
 
 
To be or not to be …. that is the question
  
Uncertainties plague even those who do believe in God. Does He really listen to us when we call? How is that possible? How can He take care of so many things at once? Among so many of His subjects do I really count? After all that I have done will He forgive me or must I suffer through Hell, before reaching Heaven? These uncertainties make our beliefs weak and dissuade us from being sincere or doing more than we currently do in the way of purity and goodness.

However, the uncertainties of those who do not believe at all (or do not really believe despite appearances) blaze like a burning wind in the desert of mind. Who really made this world? Or did it evolve itself? Who are truer, the scientists of today or the religious scripts of old? Is religion really a necessary part of life or just one of many areas, neglectable and forgettable? Is God really there?  What happens after death? Why death at all? Can it be avoided? Is there really a life after death or is it the end, the total, absolute, final end, and how does that feel?

 If you doubt the existence of God, you must also doubt the existence of Afterlife for that is then pointless. And it’s then that the idea of Death becomes the horrible, terrifying end that anyone wishes to avoid at all cost. Shakespeare’s famous verses from Hamlet (Act III, Scene I, lines 63-95) are so apt here  (I have underlined the more accessible and relevant portions):
 
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
 
And then…
 
Thus conscience* does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
 
 
Is there a solution….?
 
God has not left us without answers to many of the key questions whirling around in an uncertain mind. Any basic text or popular nonfiction will tell you to at least systematically find out information about your alternatives before choosing between them. Unlike pious people of old and dark times who arrived at monotheism purely on their own, without any explicit guidance (there are many documented examples from the pre-prophethood era of Hazrat Mohammad (sallahu alaihi wasalaam); we have the advantage of having a Guidebook, A Manual, A Reference-work of the highest calibre, waiting to be consulted with a rational mind.
 
 Although I always used to read Qur’an in a traditional way, when I started to read it in the true sense of the word I discovered that Qur’an has an answer for all the boggling, dissuading, or unnerving questions that can pervade the human mind who is misguided in any form. By any form I mean misguidance in the form of atheism, polytheism, idolatory, or even any of the misguidances prevalent in the vast Muslim nations including the kind encountered in the South Asian subcontinent (revering pious men to the extreme, according them godly status, etc).
 
At this point I must give way to the direct and chastising invitation in the Qur’an itself:
 

 أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا

DO they, then, not reflect on the Qur’an? Or are there locks on their hearts? (Sura Mohammad, 24)
 
  
 
 Notes
 
1. It’s the Quran verses application on facebook and belongs to the same group responsible for creating the Beautiful Online Quran tanzil.info (I have begun to refer my readers to every ayah I quote on tanzil.info) and well as for developing the Quran Explorer software.
 * interpret as ‘conscious thought’

RUMI REVELATIONS: Eternal reality and the journey towards God

In excerpts and quotes, God, poetry, Rumi Revelations, spirituality, universe on August 11, 2011 at 10:56 pm

COME BEGGARS ↓1

Come beggars

sit with open hands

at the gate

of nothingness

God will bring bread

without the medium

of bread

sweetness

without honey or bee

when past and future

dissolve

there is only you

senseless as a lute

upon the breast of God

———————————

From:

LOOK AT LOVE ↓2

why are you so busy

with this or that or good or bad

pay attention to how things blend

why talk about all

the known and the unknown

see how unknown merges into the known

why think separately

of this life and the next

when one is born from the last

look at water and fire

earth and wind

enemies and friends all at once

you too must mingle my friends

since the earth and the sky

are mingled just for you and me

my beloved grows

right out of my own heart

how much more union can there be

 

My two cents

Light and atom seem to join the Eternal and the transient, the Divine and the earthly in an inseparable relationship…

This enigmatic interaction created for the purpose of testing the man…. does he run away… or comes forward?

Rumi invites us to come boldly

and to plunge into the realms of eternity despite the confines of this world.

Notes

1. Translated by Daniel Liebert, in Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets: RUMI.

2. Translated by Nadir Khalili, in above.