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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: 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

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: How God relates to His subjects…

In God, Islam, Quran, Ramadaan, spirituality on August 18, 2011 at 12:05 am

16th Ramadaan, 1432:

فَلَمْ تَقْتُلُوهُمْ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ قَتَلَهُمْ

وَمَا رَمَيْتَ إِذْ رَمَيْتَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ رَمَىٰ

IT WAS not you who killed them but Allah who killed them;

 and it was not you (o Prophet) who threw (sand at them) rather Allah who threw (in Sura Al-Anfal, 17)

 

Background and Preamble

In Sura Anfal, describing the events of Ghazwah Badr (the first battle of Prophet Mohammad, salla-Allahu alaihi wa-sallam, and his followers with Mecca’s polytheists) Allah Ta’ala attributes the actions of all muslims (includig the prophet) to Himself. Given it’s context and background, the ayah has many specific and significant interpretations; however, I was struck by the ‘relating’ sense of the meaning of this ayah.

By relating, here I don’t mean the nature of our relationship with God, that of being His creation, His subjects, His dependents and worshipers. To relate also means to connect, to associate with, to concern with, to ally. God is the Sole Creator, Emperor and Controller of the whole universe and we are a tiny part of the vast universe. We are powerless before Him, in essence nothing. And yet, when the same of our kind attempted to follow His path and act out it’s demands, see how that same Omniscient, Omnipotent, All-encompassing God identifies Himself with them and endearingly attributes their actions to His Self. 

 

The backdrop for a relating God 

 There is abundant evidence in the Qur’an, as well as in hadith, that Allah Ta’ala extends His Love towards all His creation. In Arabic the most common word for love is hubb ( حب ). Other related words also used in the Qur’an are: rahmah ( رحمة ) meaning kindness and benevolence, rabubiyah ( ربوبية ) meaning to care for, ra’fah ( رأفة ) meaning tenderness and gentleness, wuddah ( وده  ) meaning to be fond of some one, and wilayah ( ولاية  ) means being a friend.

Of these various words, rahma, rabubiyah, and ra’fah have been used to express the more general and all-encompassing love of God for His creatures. Kindness is a virtue that springs from love: you cannot be kind with someone if you have an incapacity to feel love for them. The natural consequence of love and kindness is caring. Caring, as in rabubiyah, involves specific actions such as helping one grow and develop, and providing for one’s sustenance. Of course, God has provided us for our growth in various ways and reminds us of that numerously in the Qur’an. As for His rahmah, He announces:

 ۖ وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ

  MY mercy (or benevolence) embraces all things. (in Al-A’raf, 156)

and:

كَتَبَ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ 

… WHO has willed upon Himself the law of grace and mercy. (in Al-An’am, 12)

 

And how can the One who produced everyone and everything and is responsible for their care, not have a basic attitude of tenderness and gentleness upon those whome He created?

إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ

 INDEED, Allah is Gentle with people (in Al-Baqara, 143)

 

These defining attributes of God are amazing enough. Can we think of anybody else, no matter how loving in our eyes, who loves us so thoroughly who is ready to come to us ten steps if we only take one toward him? Who is ready to forgive all our mischief, disobedience, indifference, forgetfulness, or outright stubbornness in exchange for one truthful moment of acknowledgement (of His Sole Godness and of our having done wrong)? Who tenderly arranges for all the elements for our survival in this world, in the physial, psychological, and spiritual paths so that we may arrive soundly at the gate of the Real World to be? Who is not in the example of a self-satisfied pampering mother who spoils her children in the name of her ‘love’, rather who even cares for our being as optimally human as possible, thus even tests us with ordeals and shakes us with hardships so that we do not get lost in the maze of superficial luxuries and comforts?

And yet He remains Supreme, far far above us, the Incomparable, the One and the Sole. His Status is undeniably High and Mighty. So how can we expect the King of the whole universe to relate to us in the fashion of a one-to-one relationship?

 

God’s special love for His special subjects

The special more relational love of God is a reward of those of His subjects who acknowledge and depend upon His general Loves of Kindness and Tender Care. From the above list of love-related words, those that directly reflect the sense of love and affiliation are hubb, wuddah, and wilayah. Throughout the Qur’an, Allah Ta’ala has used these words as either affirmed fact or promised reward for those who obey Him truly.

And so Allah Ta’ala announces, because we believe in Him, He is our Friend. And not just a friend, rather, a true friend who works as a guide and benefactor (for that is covered in the meaning of the word wali):

اللَّـهُ وَلِيُّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا

ALLAH is the friend of those who believe (in Al-Baqra, 257)

And, as we follow the teacher (Prophet Mohammad s.a.w) He appointed out of His Kindness and Care, He promises us His Love:

إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّـهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّـهُ

Say: ‘If you love God, follow me, and God will love you (in Al-i-Imran, 31)

And when we place our trust in Him, as any proclaimed friend merits, again He loves us:

فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

… WHEN you decide upon something, rely upon Allah; indeed Allah loves those who trust (Him). (in Al-i-Imran, 159)

And when we, after believing in Him, try to practice all the various meritable attitudes and behaviors that He inspires us to, He promises His most special fond, friendly and affectionate love to us:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ سَيَجْعَلُ لَهُمُ الرَّحْمَـٰنُ وُدًّا

SURELY, Ar-Rahman will show love for those who believe and do the right. (Sura Maryam, 96)

 

The relational attributes of God

We all know that any real-life one-to-one relationship based on love, friendliness and affection is operational. By that I mean, it is not just in the form of proclamations, rather it expresses itself in specific actions, prerequisites of being a loving friend. God who is already acting as a Kind, Gentle Caregiver for the entirety of His creatures, believing or unbelieving, is indeed acting as a real Friend to us, those who believe and trust and rely on His Friendship, all the time:

And so He is there, close by us, whenever we need to talk to Him:

وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ ۖ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ ۖ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ

AND if My subjects ask you, O Prophet. concerning Me, tell them that I am quite near to them. I hear and answer the prayer of the suppliant, when he calls to Me. So let them respond to My call and believe in Me. Convey this to them, O Prophet; perhaps they may be guided aright. (Sura Baqra, 186
 

And just as we remember Him, He does the same:

 فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ

 SO remember me, and I shall remember you. (in Al-Baqara, 152)

And in times of difficulty when we are threatened, like a true friend, He defends us:

 إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُدَافِعُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا

SURELY Allah defends those who believe. (in Al-Hajj, 38

 And just like we greet each other in our friendliness, so He will greet us (InshaAllah, in Heaven) when finally the time for the meeting arrives:

 سَلَامٌ قَوْلًا مِّن رَّبٍّ رَّحِيمٍ

SALAAM! shall be the greeting from the Merciful Lord. (Sura Ya-Sin, 58)

And not only that, He will express His appreciation for whatever little we could do for Him in our earthly lives: 

إِنَّ هَـٰذَا كَانَ لَكُمْ جَزَاءً وَكَانَ سَعْيُكُم مَّشْكُورًا

 “SEE this is your recompense and your striving has been thanked.” (Sura Al-Insan, 22)

And like a true reciprocating friend, He doesn’t just care for Himself being pleased with our friendship, He cares for our being pleased with His friendship, too…

 رَّضِيَ اللَّـهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ 

 ALLAH is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him. (in Al-Mujadila, 22 and in Al-Bayyina, 8)

 

 …. only if we were sensible enough to long to and strive to merit it….

 

Is there anything left to say?

 

Source

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.

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Nobility or Inferiority?

In God, Islam, Quran on August 9, 2011 at 3:12 am
5th Ramadaan, 1432:

Today I would like to focus and reflect upon a favorite prayer of mine from the Qur’an which I came in Sura Al-i-Imran in my recitation cycle.

 قُلِ اللَّـهُمَّ مَالِكَ الْمُلْكِ تُؤْتِي الْمُلْكَ مَن تَشَاءُ وَتَنزِعُ الْمُلْكَ مِمَّن تَشَاءُ وَتُعِزُّ مَن تَشَاءُ

وَتُذِلُّ مَن تَشَاءُ ۖ بِيَدِكَ الْخَيْرُ ۖ إِنَّكَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

تُولِجُ اللَّيْلَ فِي النَّهَارِ وَتُولِجُ النَّهَارَ فِي اللَّيْلِ ۖ وَتُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ وَتُخْرِجُ

 الْمَيِّتَ مِنَ الْحَيِّ ۖ وَتَرْزُقُ مَن تَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

 SAY: “O Allah! Lord of Power (And Rule), You give power to whom You please, and You strip off power from whom You please: You endue with honour whom You please, and You bring low whom You please: In Your hand is all good. Verily, over all things You has power. (26)

YOU make the night to pass into the day and You make the day to pass into the night, and You bring forth the living from the dead and You bring forth the dead from the living, and You give sustenance to whom You please without measure. (27)

Background with preamble

There are many prayers that Allah Subhanahu has taught us directly in his own words. Naturally, these prayers have a special status given the status and words of the Teacher. Prophet Mohammad (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) was taught this prayer after Ghazwa (war in which the Prophet directly participated) of Ihzaab when he predicted that Muslims will concquer Persia… At this prediction, the non-believers of those times taunted Muslims. To appease His prophet and disciples, Allah ta’ala sent a reply to the taunts in the form of this prayer.

The properties of a prayer

Some of the ‘heaviest’ prayers mentioned in the Qur’an are in the form of a plain statement, rather than as an imperative sentence. I share two instances here, both of which are actually injunctions of great prophets:

حَسْبُنَا اللَّـهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ

 ALLAH is sufficient for us and most excellent is the Protector. (in Al-i-Imran, 173)

لَّا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ

‘THERE is no deity but You. Glory be to You! I was indeed wrong.’ (in Al-Anbya, 87)

In context, the Al-i-Imran one was quoted as invocation of a group of Muslims who followed the instructions of Prophet Mohammad (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) after Ghazwah of Badr, despite extreme fatigue, tough circumstances and people’s taunts. However, tafseer informs us that these words (replacing the plural pronoun with the singular one) were the ones spoken by Hazrat Ibrahim (alaihi-s salaam) when he was about to be thrown into Nimrod’s fire. As a result of these words, Allah Ta’ala order the fire to go cold on him and to let him stay in peace (in Al-Anbya, 69).

The second quote is the well-known prayer of Hazrat Younus (alaihi-s salaam) when he had made a decision beneath his station of prophethood. To correct him, Allah Ta’ala made him end up in the belly of a whale where he stayed for a considerable period such that his skin was all vulnerable as a result of being treated by the acids in the belly. Finally, he used the above words for forgiveness and repentance and Allah Ta’ala ordered the whale to throw him up on a beach (references throughtout the Qur’an).

Both these prayers were made in instances of intense ordeals, when an ordinary person is very likely to loose his mind in desperation. Both these prayers are characterized by a simple and straightforward acknowledgment of a fact — the fact of supreme trust on God, in one case, the fact of His lone Divinity and of the supplicant’s being in the wrong, in the other. Also, no specific end is sought after in these prayers, even though the extremeness of circumstance in each case merits yearning for a specific relief from adversity.

Another instance of such a prophet-prayer that comes to mind is that of Hazrat Yaqoob (alaihi-s salaam) when following the long-term separation from his beloved son Hazrat Yousuf (alaihi-s salaam), he was given the sad news of separation from his youngest son Bin-Yamin:

إِنَّمَا أَشْكُو بَثِّي وَحُزْنِي إِلَى اللَّـهِ

‘I ONLY complain of my anguish and my sorrow to God.’ (in Yousuf, 86)

Here, the Prophet merely puts his case before Allah with a frankness that only those can procur who truly sustain a true mental relationship with their God.

All these prayers show a highness of belief that Allah Ta’ala is listening to all our statements at all time, and that His being turned to in a worry is a must for His subjects, and He knows best of the turmoil and ordeal the supplicant is going through. Thus these prayers are bereft of an ordinary supplicative style, powered by the consciousness that merely invoking His Being by acknolwedging His Status and the status of one’s own relationship with Him is enough to grant hearing from that High court and enough to bear the fruit that Allah sees best for the caller.

Similarly, today’s chosen prayer is the one in the same manner taught by Allah Subhanahu Himself. It, along with announcing the High merits of the Al-Mighty God, invokes His attention towards power, honor, and rizq without directly asking for any of these.

The High Merits of God

Allah Ta’ala is the Lord of all Power. Power of creation and destruction, of sovereignty, of death and life, of giving and taking; more basically, Power to do anything He wants anytime! The different, most important and global facets of this Power are covered in the various statements of the two ayahs in the prayer. Whereas the first ayah mentions facets of power, that are more relevant to human life on this earth (and also more relevant to the context in which the ayaats descended), the second one mentions more universal and wonderous and awe-inspiring powers. These are such powers that considering them aids us in confirming our belief in God and finding solace in being His subject. By implication, by invoking Allah Subhanahu Ta’ala’s attention with such amazing and all-encompassing range of His powers, we feel sure and secure of gaining hearing in His court. By the same token, we feel sure of getting a response and relief in the earthly life (in addition to rewards in the hereafter); for its worth-noting that the objects mentioned in this prayer are more of an earthly (though not necessarily of ‘wordly’) nature. So let us consider what the objects of these prayers are:

The high objects of the prayer

Mulk, in Arabic, means command, control, capability, and authority. Although the specific context of the ayah is concerned with rule over land, but the word is general, and its use here also seems to be general (in fact, its a general rule of the Qur’an that most statements retain a general interpretation despite specific circumstances of their descendence).

Izzah,  means strengh, severity and conquest. The property defines one who is invincible, who cannot be overwhelmed. The picture is of extreme honour with someone possessive of control within and without.

Khair, means all goodness, material and otherwise.

Rizq means all kinds of provisions that a provider can grant us. It ranges from food, through worldly possessions to capabilities, talents and honorable traits.

Thus, this prayer combines, at one go, invocations for all the things anyone could desire for. It just does not limit to ‘things’ in the worldly sense, but asks for everything that is noble, honorable and desirable at all levels of human existence. Moreover, it also implicitly asks for protection from the opposite of the scenario: inferiority.

Nobility vs Abasement

The word used here is one that us Urdu-speakers are highly familiar with: Zillah.

Zillah entails all the horrible concepts of ‘lowness’ that our minds-in-terror could conjure up. Humiliation, degradation, humble submissiveness, disrepute, weakness, despice, wretchedness.. May God save us from all of it!

The strong contrast of izzah vs zillah in the first ayah of the prayer reminds us that a life without the noble blessings of God is indeed a life spent in zillah. We can look at this point from many angles and instances.

The extreme example of zillah is being zaleel in God’s own eyes. Think of a son who has made himself low and inferior in his parent’s eyes. Imagine what kind of deeds he must have done and what kind of treatment he must have given to his parents to fall that low? Now multiply this scenario thousands of times! See how Allah Ta’ala speaks of the capable, intelligent, and inherently noble creature Allah so proudly created and had angels bow before him, but who through his stubbornness and willfulness has turned away from that Loving Creator and goes out in the word for the mean purposes of making his selfish ends meet at the expense of others, of straying people from a life of true nobility, and even to destroying (or at least making hard) the pathways and channels that aid in finding true nobility:

إِنَّ شَرَّ الدَّوَابِّ عِندَ اللَّـهِ الصُّمُّ الْبُكْمُ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ

THE worst creatures in God’s eyes are those who are deaf and dumb, and who possess no understanding. (Al-Anfal, 22)
 
Another way of being zaleel is of being so in others’ eyes. Here we can understand easily how those who roam rampant in their ungodly lives will be viewed by those who do the opposite. However, it might be more of a stretch to see how such are zaleel in each other’s eyes..
 
Even in the unbelieving (or the not-really-believing) section of the human population, many people are so obviously strayed such as criminals, and mean and murdering politicians, and looting profiteering or corrupt businessmen and professionals, and wild battering husbands, and those on drugs etc that they have already earned lowness in people who despite their lack of belief are at least not openly harming themselves or others.
 
There seem to be many who enjoy fame, renown, in addition to wealth; people run for a glimpse of them, dream of taking their autographs etc. But are they really respectable and truly viewed as such? Just wait until a little piece of dirt about any single one of them comes up and then read the tabloids and hear people talk. Conversely, even if something suspicious ever comes up (or is spread around) about someone in our lives who is respectable in it’s truest sense (i.e. character and belief), how difficult we find to believe and argue in favor of the one without being told. Only those who already had a jealousy of the person-in-question are likely to dip their tongues in evil ink at such times.
 
Still many examples remain (both in the non-believing and less-than-strongly believing sides) that don’t fit any of the descriptions I have discussed. Yet as I mention their examples, reason speaks out of the lowness of such existences.
 
So think of a person too drunk to drive home; think of a person whose, nose, chin, belly, tongue etc, etc, are all pierced; think of women who share their bed with countless others; think of an essentially healthy person who has adopted begging as his fulltime occupation; think of a young man whose life is nothing but a series of video games and music concerts; think of a person who must stoop to other low persons like him, bribing or flattering them, to get the tasks of his life done; think of a person who thinks so high of oneself that s/he has even forgotten how to live and behave among people;  think of a man who thinks of himself as low __ too low to expect any good in life, too low to move his limbs into action in hope of a better tomorrow. Examples upon examples __ lowness of various kinds and degrees.
 
These examples also serve to remind us to look for certainly numerous instances of lowness in our own lives and character; when we were too insecure, or too proud, or too angry, or too scared, or too dependent, or too stubborn, or too shy, or self-righteous to do the right noble and respectful act on our own, independently, depending on no one but God.
 
The more we come to depend on God, the less we stoop before others, literally or comparatively.
 
Not for nothing the Al-Mighty Subhanahu reminds us in His Book:
 

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ إِلَى اللَّـهِ ۖ وَاللَّـهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ

O PEOPLE, it is you who stand in need of Allah; as for Allah, He is Self-Sufficient, Immensely Praiseworthy. (Al-Fatir, 15)

 

So let us turn toward the Highest of all beings, with the high words He Himself endowed on us, and ask for that human highness of character He wants to see in us, for every moment of our lives.

 
 

 

 

QUR’AN IN RAMADAAN: The enjoining Light

In God, Quran, science, universe on August 5, 2011 at 4:48 am

2nd Ramadaan, 1432:

Ramadaan Mubarak to all the readers of this blog and to all Muslims in general.

Two years ago I began the Quran in Ramadaan series on my blog and wished to continue it beyond Ramadaan as The Qur’an Cycle. However things don’t always go as intended. Beginning from last year, I have taken a long gap in my blogging, the reason of which I will explain InshaAllah on my post re 14th August. May Allah accept my intentions this year to continue my blogging especially my Qur’an Cycle series, Amen.

 As I began the yearly Quran recitation cycle most of us complete in Ramadaan, I was struck by this ayah as related to a recent advance in my knowledge that had hit me as worth sharing with my readers:

صِبْغَةَ اللَّـهِ ۖ وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ مِنَ اللَّـهِ صِبْغَةً  

THE Color of Allah… And who can be better than Allah in color… (in Al-Baqarah, 138)

I have used the literal dictionary meaning of the Arabic word sibghah over here, as translators generally place the word in a context and replace it’s literal English equivalent with some meaningful concept helpful in tafseer. I have also provided a link to the Beautiful Online Quran at tanzeel.info so that readers can go through the different meaningful renderings of the word themselves.

Color, Light and the Creator of the Universe

We all know that ‘color’ is nothing but a byproduct of how light interacts with objects. Sunlight has all the primary colors in it (different wavelenghts corresponding to different hues). When light falls upon an object, the object absorbs some wavelenghts and reflects back the rest. This ‘reflected’ combination of wavelengths, upon reaching our eyes, literally colors the object with its particular shade. When an object absorbs all the wavelengths, we see it as black. Objects look white when all of light is reflected back, none is abosrbed.  That is why black objects are warmest while white objects are coolest, since we know light is a form of energy and energy prodcues heat.

We also know, that while Allah Ta’ala is incomparable and indescribable, the closest real-world entity with which He associates Himself is Light.  In one of the most beautiful ayahs in the whole Qur’an Allah Ta’ala says:

اللَّـهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِن شَجَرَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَّا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُّورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ

 ALLAH is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp __the lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star __kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light; (in An-Nur, ayah 35)

This ayah is rare in the Qur’an not only because of its sonic and literary beauty or because it uses such a sparkling series of metaphors; but also because this is the only ayah in Qur’an where Allah describes His nature other than by referring to His actions and powers.

He proclaims He is Light, and that same light which the whole universe depends on. It’s as if the whole universe springs from Allah, that His Being spans and pervades the whole universe, and indeed these are the belief-points about Allah that are familiar Muslim household lessons.

Light and the Creatures of the Creator

Those familiar with the Qur’an know that light is also mentioned in connection with the creatures of the universe, in particular us humans.

Surah Hadeed, in particular, describes how Light is one of the Blessings of God that will help the good Muslims on the Day of Judgment:

يَوْمَ تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَسْعَىٰ نُورُهُم بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِم

ON that day you will see the faithful men and the faithful women– their light running before them and on their right hand– (in ayah 12) 

وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرُسُلِهِ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الصِّدِّيقُونَ ۖ وَالشُّهَدَاءُ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ لَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ وَنُورُهُمْ

THOSE who believe in Allah and His Messengers are the sincere and the martyrs before their Lord, they shall have their reward and their light. (in ayah 19) 

In Surah Tahreem we are taught how to ask for this blessing of light:

رَبَّنَا أَتْمِمْ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

‘OUR Lord, complete our light for us and forgive us. Surely, You have power over all things.’ (in ayah 8 )

 At other places in the Qur’an the good people are described as having shining faces on the day of Judgment, whereas the bad ones are described as having black faces. For instance, in Al-i-Imran:

يَوْمَ تَبْيَضُّ وُجُوهٌ وَتَسْوَدُّ وُجُوهٌ ۚ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ اسْوَدَّتْ وُجُوهُهُمْ أَكَفَرْتُم بَعْدَ إِيمَانِكُمْ فَذُوقُوا الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَكْفُرُونَ

THE Day when faces will be whitened and faces blackened. To those whose faces have become blackened it will be said: ‘Did you disbelieve after you had believed? Then taste the punishment for that you disbelieved’. (Ayah 106)
And then:
 
AS for those whose faces will be whitened, they shall be in the Mercy of Allah for ever. (Ayah 107)
 
Light and the Human Body
 
It seems Light does have a connection with the human body, tied to the purity of one’s character. But the things of that world will be revealed in that world, not here. However, one wonders, does light have a connection with the human body even in this world?
 
 
 
My attempt to move towards possible answerws must begin with the counterpart of light — matter. Everything in this world, living or non-living is made up of atoms. An atoms itself is a dynamic arrangement of particles: neutrons, protons, and electrons. Nearly every process that takes place in this world is influenced by a constant interaction between light and atom, when looked at the atomic level. Making and breaking of things, heating up and cooling down, etc. Even processes of life (taking place in the body) are influenced. This is because all processes involve either  joining or unjoining of atoms (chemical bonds), or involve movement of electrons from one state to another and both these processes include light particles (photons) as a must.
 
Photons are either released or absorbed when electrons move between states and depending upon the direction of movement a chemical bond may be formed or broken. This is what effects both color (when the photons involved are at the level detectable by the eye) and heat. There are familiar examples in the living world already: All plants rely on photosynthesis, the absorption of light to create food energy. Many living things exhibit glowing in the dark (bioluminescence), a process that involves the release of light. In humans most electron-photon interactions take place at levels that do not translate into visible light, however visible light does effect well-known biological processes, such as:  as metabolism (making and breaking of food for energy and storage), circadian rhythms (roughly 24-hour cycles of various behaviors and bodily life processes), and even reproduction↓1.
 
So far so good; we are on familiar ground.
 
However, what inspired me to write this post was how a bunch of scientists are attempting to find bolder instances of how light interacts with our body, in particular with our DNA and our brain. The light involved in body processes may be termed as biophysical light, to distinguish it from more familiar light of the outside world.
 
Light and the DNA? … and the Brain?
 
That DNA interacts with light was a fact known before (though I had no idea) but which remains unexplained (reference, p. 27).  However, a group of Russian scientists (whose reference I have provided) have used this ability of DNA to influence it’s basic task: development of an organism. For instance, by manipulating this ability, scientists have achieved “superfast growth of potatoes” and a “statistically authentic ‘resuscitation’ of dead seeds [of a plant] taken from the Chernobyl area in 1987”.
 
More importantly, these experiments support the “contention that this newly detected phenomenon of quantized optical activity can be considered as the means by which the organism obtains unlimited optical information on its own metabolism.” Specifically, the patterns of polarization that interaction with light creates is a direct and holistic source of information for the DNA and for every gene located on it. These scientists, hence, propose that DNA and gene have a holographic memory through which they can read the genetic information as a text in context.
 
We all know that DNA is composed of a series of genes, each gene storing a particular bit of information about the organism. Each gene is made up of series of 3 nucleotides (called as codons). Actually, each gene stores the recipe for making of a particular body protien which in turn influences a particular life process. Now, proteins are essentially chains of amino acids. Well, each codon of a gene holds information about a particular amino acid. Each codon itself is a series of three neucleotides . All students of bio-chemistry know that transcripts of any given gene chain-of-codons is ‘run’ like a tape on ribosomes and turn by trun the amino acids coded by the codons are brought on-site and joined up one by one to create the protein chain. However, it seems that “that only the first two elements of the DNA codon triplet … are the significant ones”, giving rise to the question that “how does the reading ribosome know which protein has to be generated, if the third nucleotide in codon’s triplet does not of itself provide the answer with total certainty?” 
 
Based on the knowledge of DNA’s interaction with light (and related quantum phenomena), combined with their experimental and theoretical research, the quoted group of scientists conclude the above under-lined statement. Simply, that “this ambiguity might be resolved by some kind of context dependent reading similar to that inherent in human speech and language understanding.”  That is Genes and DNA have a ‘holistic’ awareness of the information contained by them, which in turn guides the selection of specific amino acids for specific proteins. This holistic awareness is likened to a holographic memory since it supposedly arises from the wave pattern that interactions with photons produce throughout the DNA in each cell of the body. For more curious readers wishing to clarify themselves what a ‘holographic memory’ is and why are DNA’s capabilities being likened to it, I point you to the crystal-clear post of an interesting fellow blogger Jim Cranford.
 
Another scientist Karl Pribram had similarly proposed that the cereberal cortex (the intelligent part of the brain) also has holographic memory. Read his quote below taken from a fellow blogger (see the source here):
 

“ …brain models need to take into account the type of processing performed
by optical systems. Such optical information processing is called
holography, and holograms display exactly the same sort of
imaging properties observed for brain…”

Source

To understand further we first need to reconsider how a hologram works. By splitting a light beam into two beams after it has passed through a crystal (and is thus amplified) and focusing the two beams on the subject from two different angles, the recording of unlimited bits of information about the subject is made. When light rays strike an object in front of us and the information reaches our brain, the effect is similar; plus the totality of information about the subject (e.g. sounds, taste etc. as the case may be, even feelings and thoughts) is stored in a holistic way. Not only that, as we have seen, actual interactions of electrons and photons are involved in the brain. So the recording of information holistically may be holographic in a way similar to that of the DNA. Our memories, our intelligence, our personalities, all work holistically, nobody needs to tell us that. We don’t think one little piece of thought at a time. A multitude of images, feelings, stimuli, opinions, habit patters impinge upon us at the same time any single moment of our life. Some metaphyhsical authors are even wondering if the ventricles (the liquid-filled chambers deep within the brain) really act as  crystals in an ongoing holographic process resulting in consciousness.

 
So much for science talk, but what are the points of awe and wonder that inspired me to write this post?
 
Light — the spiritual connection between this world and the next?
 
There are a lot of references in Qur’an and Hadith which inform us that this world has been designed as a stage. Qur’an uses words such as lahv (useless thing), la’b (plaything), and ghuroor (deception) to describe the world and its objects. One Hadith likens this world to a drop of sea-water. Contrast with the Ocean, likened to the eternal world, or let us say, the reality before, behind, and after this deceiving useless for-play dunya (world). Naturally, as one hadith informs us, God’s Eye doesn’t weigh this world even as much as a wing of a mosquito. This world was created as a test for the will of humans (and jinns), and will be destroyed after all the generations destined to be born have completed their alloted life-spans. Not just this world, the whole universe will be destroyed and then made in a new shape when the Day of Judgment arrives. Our bodies will have been lost long before that day; new ones will be made for us and our souls (recalled from the World of the Barzakh) will be reunited with them. All of this is salient in the open-to-all sources of Quran and Sahih Hadith.
 
Light is the one familiar thing from this world, however, which has been given special status. Looking deeply, each and every object of this world is made up of atoms. And all that happens at the physical level and chemical level (e.g. movement, breaking, joining or combining of things, etc) takes place at that level and often involves the interaction of atom’s particles with the particles of light, photons. Not only light interacts significantly with the human body, there are pointers in still developing fields of science that light circulates inside and guides the two basic structures of the human body which ‘run’ it in the most literal sense. 
 
God has said that:
 

 AND of every thing We have created pairs: That ye may receive instruction. (Al-Zariyat, ayah 49)

Is it that light forms a pair with matter (atom), the former being the fluid, immaterial yet more lasting (indeed, ever-lasting), intrusive, all-pervasive, partner of the pair; while the latter remains the more limited, temporary and destructible partner? Indeed, scientists have already procurred evidence that atom and photon can share the same information. Just as Atom is the essense of this world, may be light is the essence of the other one? It must be, if the very Al-mighty Lord likens Himself to it. May be that is why the properties of the two correspond perfectly with the two worlds they are associated with, this stage-like world and the Real Eternal world behind it all..

Indeed mind-boggling research on light-related quantum phenomena have already lead authors such as Michael Talbot to propose that this whole universe is nothing but a phantasm, a giant hologram!

Source

 

Notes

1. Scholarly reference here.

 

POINT|COUNTERPOINT: God and Happiness

In God, psychology of religion on May 19, 2010 at 5:44 pm

THE POINT

#1

The How of Happiness Blog (Sonja Lyubomirsky):

I begin with a bit of self-disclosure. I don’t have a religious or spiritual bone in my body. (Yes, maybe even less than Richard Dawkins.) But this doesn’t mean that I’m not open-minded about research on happiness and religion. As I write in my book, The How of Happiness, just because (most) religious beliefs cannot be empirically tested or falsified doesn’t mean that the consequences of having religious faith, participating in religious life, or searching for the sacred cannot be studied. Indeed, a growing body of psychological science is suggesting that religious folks are happier, healthier, and recover better after traumas than nonreligious ones.

Consider just two examples:

• If you are having serious cardiac surgery and receive strength and comfort from your religious faith, you’ll be almost 3 times more likely to be alive 6 months later.
• 47 percent of people who report attending religious services several times a week describe themselves as “very
happy,” versus 28 percent of those who attend less than once a month.

The trouble is that researchers don’t really know why.

#2

David Duncan, the pioneering single participant in the Experimental Man Project:

Now I’m in Bethesda, Maryland. Another day, another MRI scan. This time, the prompt on the monitor I’m gazing at inside the machine leaves no room for a nuanced answer:

There is a god.

I have a few seconds to answer yes or no on the clicker in my hand, but I am stumped about which button to push.

As blood surges in my head to locales associated with religious belief, I’m thinking that this question, for me, may be unanswer able. I am essentially nonreligious. I seldom go to church, and I often find myself agreeing with the likes of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens that organized religions are mostly artifacts of premodern cultures that in ancient times created all-powerful deities to explain and cope with the unknown. I believe that overzealous piety has led to horrors such as the Inquisition and to dogma that at times becomes so rigid that it blatantly contradicts scientific proof (and sometimes common sense). Yet I know that religion clearly comforts people. Studies show that patients who pray often tend to do better than those who do not. Nor can I deny the crucial importance of spirituality, a sense that one’s goals can be bigger than just looking out for oneself.

Bottom line: I have no proof that a god exists or that the universe is anything but random atoms assembling and disassembling without a design or a creator. My thumb twitches above the “no” button.

And yet I lack definitive proof that God does not exist. It is possible that he (or she or it) is real. Not the man with the beard depicted in medieval paintings, but some force far beyond our brains’ comprehension. If there is even a 0.0001 percent chance that this is so, can I answer no?

Time is up. My thumb moves toward yes, and I press it. I feel exhausted by so many thoughts racing through my brain; the neuronal exertion must have lit up my brain like a city at night seen from 35,000 feet.

#3

The Collision Detection Blog commenting on a an ‘easter egg’ from the new computational search engine Wolfram Alpha:

Wolfram Alpha is a super cool question-answering system. Ask it about something factual, and it’ll offer up whatever specific info it has — such as the dimensions of a #10 screw or a definition of “20/50 vision” (including an eye chart fuzzed out at the right line!) Wolfram Alpha can also answer queries that require it to collect together, parse and compare bits of data, such as finding the “10 nearest stars” or comparing the populations of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily.

But what happens when you ask it a metaphysical question? I tried the query above — “Does God exist?” — and cracked up at the answer:


THE COUNTERPOINT

Questions…

Why are religious people measurably happier and more content than non-religious and non-believing ones?

Why is a secularist forced to answer Yes to the does-God-exist question in a moment of tense but honest psychological wrestling with his self?

Why is an excellent and scientific (though reticently self-referred as ‘poor’) engine gives a humble answer when asked the God-question?

Answers….?

This time round, I want my readers to provide me with the counterpoint.

I know I do have some loyal readers out there. They may not agree with my occasional rantings against modern science (or rather against the way science is being used today), but they keep with me because  of our common faith and certainty; and because of our common fate of striving to hold our head high in the increasingly crazy world of  hedonia, immorality, atheism, discontent, extremism, …..

After I have accumulated at least 5 different, reflective &/or elaborative answers as comments, I will post them as Part II of this post, annotated with appropriate commentary &/or references if I found suitable.


JazakAllahu Khaira

WONDERSoftheWORLD: …And we thought EYES were needed to SEE?

In God, perception, psychology, science, Wonders of the World on May 11, 2010 at 6:42 pm

What is so particular about this portrait?

Clinton? No. It’s the artist who painted it.

The Wonder…

I didn’t start out to be an artist.

I just wanted to learn about the world around me that I was living in.

I think I’m starting to know it, but I can’t be sure without feeling it.

Esref Armagan was born without eyes. As a child he grew a passion for drawing objects he was familiar with through touch. “Growing up, he felt socially isolated because of his blindness and would often spend hours alone drawing in the sand and exploring the relief patterns of his figures.”

He learned to associate colors with objects – by far the only thing he learned from his sighted others. Practically everything else in the art he uses, he has discovered on his own.

He would first etch “the image in his mind” on a cardboard. Then picking from systematically arranged oil paints (always placed in the same order for identification), he would apply a color with his fingers. Letting one color dry up in a few days, he will have to be patient before he could apply the next color.

Today he sketches using a stylus that makes raised outlines. He has also come to apply acrylics as they dry more quickly.

The Miracle…

The object must be made into a raised drawing.

I must work for days in order to perceive it in my mind.

I use a putty outline which enables my hands to easily distinguish the lines of the drawing. I do not use a brush. It’s impossible for me to understand whether there’s paint on the brush.

I have to paint with my hands.

The most amazing fact about Esref’s paintings is not that he imagines touched objects’ forms fairly well and represents them accurately on paper. His paintings are at par with any drawn by skilled sighted artists. As specialists studying him have said, his paintings show the right mixture of real world characteristics such as color variation, shadows, light and shade effects, light reflection, contrasts and perspective.

If we focus on a single of these characteristics, we might apprehend the miracle better. Perspective refers to the property of 2D pictures which accurately reflect 3D patterns in space. The modern use of perspective in drawings was considerably advanced by the observation made by Filippo Brunelleschi, who was standing one day before the famous octagonal structure Florence Baptistery in Italy. He noticed that the upper and lower horizontal lines of the walls of the Baptistery (if extended imaginally) converged at the horizon. Using his observation he drew an accurate mirror reflection of the Baptistery. A test of his accuracy was to place his painting beside a mirror facing the Baptistery. Viewers could see that both the representations (mirror and the painting) were indistinguishable.

Dr. John M. Kennedy, a perception psychologist at the University of Toronto, wished to test Armagan’s ability to drawn in perspective using this historical place as a venue. Armagan was not aware of his commission, except that he had to reach a certain place in Italy. Upon reaching, he was guided through a tactile exposure to the Baptistery’s design, seated at the same position as presumably Brunelleschi had adopted, and given the challenge to draw the Baptistery in perspective. Amazingly, Armagan was able to do so; on the other hand, even sighted people often have difficulty in using this artistic technique.

Moreover, his pictures show accurate representations of objects he could never have touched with his hands, such as sun and clouds…. His method of doing portraits highlight this aspect of the living miracle. He would ask a sighted person to draw around a photograph. Turning the page over, he would feel around the sketch with his left hand. And then transfer his feeling onto the paper. One might say that the raised outlines helped him out, but to get the whole face so aptly is certainly out of the ordinary.

The discovery…

Dr. Aamir Amedi is a an Instructor of Neurology at the Harvard Medical School. He and his colleges invited Esref as a single-subject in a brain-scanning study. Esref provides a unique opportunity to explore the brain of a person whose artistic prowess allows him to communicate his internal perceptional experiences in an external form. Scanning Esref’s brain while he was engaged in exploring forms of objects through touch and in drawing a novel object he had never come across before, the following amazing discovery was made:

Activation during drawing (compared to scribbling) occurred in brain areas normally associated with vision, including the striate cortex along with frontal and parietal cortical regions. Some of these areas showed overlap when EA was asked to mentally imagine the pictures he had to draw (albeit to a lesser anatomical extent and signal magnitude).

Interestingly, several areas, most notably in the medial posterior occipital cortex, showed much greater selectivity for drawing compared to all other tested conditions.

Within the occipital cortex, activation specific to the drawing condition was found in occipito-temporal areas …. corresponding to the primary and secondary visual cortical areas (areas corresponding to mid and peripheral visual field representations).

The same brain areas were active in Esref’s mind that are also active in the sighted people’s brain engaged in the same task! It means the brain process taking place inside Esref’s mind was the same on touching objects, as in people when they SEE those same objects.

The interpretation

This finding challenges the preconceived notion that vision (or precisely: the information from environment in form of light-rays) is needed for the ability to see. Here is a man who can imagine things as well as sighted people can, as both his art and the scientific investigation made upon him illustrate! The following explanation by Dr. Kennedy helps us further:

Any differences in definitions of shape and distance are matters more of convenience and habit than of geometrical principle. When the core common to shape and distance is evident, it is easier to understand how touch can achieve distal perception.

Jim Cranford points out that Esref’s extraordinary ability to reflect the world without ever seeing it reflects the working of the organism as an information processing feedback loop. In Jim’s words:

The senses input information from the environment, the perception apparatus, which includes the whole body in it’s scope, produces an internal model of the environment, that the hands use to paint. Remove eyes from the loop and it continues with what is available.

Another explanation (related to the one above) lies in the plasticity of our brains, an idea that has gained acceptance only in the recent decades. The brain can utilize all it’s untapped potential to construct reality so that maximum survival is possible.

Feeling my way around with my fingers has completely erased my blindness. It’s as if I see like anyone else.

The meaning

Most amazing of all, in the whole story, is the realization that somehow Esref visualizes (‘imagines’ is a more accurate word) the outer world as it is by focusing on the shapes, sizes, and distances, and on the patterns formed by these elements just like we do. The only difference is that we rely primarily on vision and he relies solely on touch and actual moving about. Fact is that we too have learned a lot of the information (that creates the perception of the world we are familiar with) through the sources Esref uses but we don’t realize that too often, we are so used to seeing.

One would like to get inside Esref’s mental world and SEE the pictures it shows. Esref himself  comments in the documentary made upon him: nobody can say I can not see.

Esref’s experience reminds us of the concepts of ‘tangled hierarchies’ and ‘strange loops’ Hofstadter developed. Whatever we see, hear or feel is the outcome (a percept) of the underlying system which combines information from diverse sources. Information is nothing but a pattern contained in a series of symbols. The phenomenon of perception is just like the reading off of the larger pattern made up of small and interconnected loops of information.  Our mental world (whether eyes closed or open) is just like reading the meaning contained in the loops, slashes and dots that we call ‘writing’ in combination. Or, it is like getting immersed in the Computer Screen’s display which is nothing but a pattern of pixels. We are not looking at the pattern of pixels though. Our minds are locked onto the patterns of meaning those pixel-patterns represent.

The lesson

#1

Art, on both a technical and conceptual level, externalizes the inner workings of the brain (Zeki, 2001).

Esref’s story once again makes us realize that this world is nothing but a product of our minds.  Surely our minds are subject to certain governing rules that have been programmed into it. Just that. Change the rules and the perception and the world changes. I will here point out my reader to the case of outrageous sensations resulting from a dose of LSD. LSD is not the only relevant example. Think about the profound changes in the percept, given mescalin, meditation, optical illusions, or neurotransmitter disturbances in schizophrenia.  Lesson: all our perceptions are limited by the defining features of the environment we are in. We cannot really go beyond the restrictions imposed on us by the environment and perceive more or differently than we currently can.

وَما هٰذِهِ الحَيوٰةُ الدُّنيا إِلّا لَهوٌ وَلَعِبٌ ۚ وَإِنَّ الدّارَ الءاخِرَةَ لَهِىَ الحَيَوانُ ۚ لَو كانوا يَعلَمونَ

for,  the life of this world is nothing but a passing delight and a play –whereas, behold, the life in the hereafter is indeed the only [true] life: if they but knew this! [Al-Ankabut, 64]

#2

We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.

Esref’s story also reminds us of that essential limitation of science. It is a tool for testing the certitude of pieces of theory, but the theory and the tools are heavily limited by the limitations in our own perceptions that the lesson one points out to. Since it is not possible for the observer to move outside the FIELD in which the observation must take place, all observations are limited by the definition of the field. All the progress in knowledge made through science is therefore abrupt, jerky, and subject to nullification or heavy modification given a contradictory or unique discovery not made before. Esref’s story merely illustrates the heavy limitations on perception given biological constraints and allowances. But the modern-day scientist’s story illustrates the psychological (or let us say, the spiritual) constraints on perception…

فَإِنَّها لا تَعمَى الأَبصٰرُ وَلٰكِن تَعمَى القُلوبُ الَّتى فِى الصُّدورِ

For surely it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts which are in the breasts. [Al-Hajj, 46]




The thing I fear most in life is being asked to  do something I’m incapable of doing.


NOTES

  1. Paintings by Esref Armagan can be viewed on the websites armagan.com and esrefarmagan.com
  2. Esref’s full statements highlighted in blue have been taken from the Volvo S60 Blind Preview documentary.
  3. Kennedy’s perspective challenge to Armagan has been video-recorded in a documentary on Armagan available on YouTube.
  4. Reference to Amedi et al.’s article from which the quotes have been taken:  Neural and behavioral correlates of drawing in an early blind painter: A case study. Brain Research, 1242, 252-62. (2008). Retrieve Online.
  5. Dr. Kennedy’s quote taken from: Kennedy, J. M. (1993). Drawing and the blind. Yale University Press, p. 9. Retrieved Online.
  6. To read my rendering of related concepts that Hofstadter developed in his classic Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, click here.
  7. Zeki’s quote in Amedi et al (2008) cited above.
  8. Quote in lesson #2 by Robert Pirsig in his famous Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

THE BIOGRAPH: Flashback (و نفخت فيه من روحي )

In God, poetry, The Biograph on April 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Wa Nafakhtu fihi min Roohi

وَنَفَختُ فيهِ مِن روحى

(And I breathed into him of My spirit; in Al-Hijr, 29)

They lured me

With their glimpses of promised beauty.

They entranced me

With a dose of flamboyant romance.

They enticed me

With fulfilling fruits believed in.

They trapped me

With warming visions that I blindly bought.

They shocked me

With sharpnels of suddenness.

They froze me

With cold-hearted disclosures.

They bled me

With ripped-open illusions.

They teased me

With that smug leer of fate.

But beyond these stage curtains

World…

Circumstance…

I see

laughing softly

the playing Sage

Whose Hands wrote

the tender pages of my life.

And He waits

with the patient love of a mother

and with a father’s grace

for my comeback.

He knows I will stand

through the shocks

through the shakes

through this loosening earth

and through all I put at stake..

That I will rise above these curtains

break away

from this a-grounding burden

of a broken-heartedness

That I will tread into the lane

He points with His Hidden Hand

That He had all the way prepared.

I can see

that down this Road

I will be as sagacious

as His Breath

that He secreted into me

at the advent of my humanity

will inspire me to be.

(InshaAllah)

____________________________________________________________

29 December, 2007

MIND’S I EXPLORATIONS: Universal self and Perishment

In God, philosophy, psychology on December 12, 2009 at 11:11 am

“The Mind’s I: Fantasies and reflections on self and soul” is an anthology of writings on the nature of self and consciousness. Its editors Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett (who have also contributed to this anthology) reflect upon the issues expressed in each piece. Their major take on the issue is on how the physical brain creates the metaphysical mind or soul. However, each essay, since it is centered on a theme of most central significance to humanity, can be read at many levels: psychological, spiritual, social, and neurological.

Borges on self

The anthology begins with a translated version of Borges’ short story piece called Borges and I, which was originally published in his short story collection titled The Maker in 1960. Jorge Luis Borges was a famous Argentinean writer known for his fictions on matters of philosophical and metaphysical significance. In the story referred above, Borges explores themes that are in fact near to all of us by focusing upon his ‘social self’ as ‘someone different’.

Personal vs. the Social self

All of us can experience two distinct sides of us. One is our inner nature, the true us, that only we have real access to.  This is the inner side that God refers to when He says:

وَلَقَد خَلَقنَا الإِنسٰنَ وَنَعلَمُ ما تُوَسوِسُ بِهِ نَفسُهُ ۖ وَنَحنُ أَقرَبُ إِلَيهِ مِن حَبلِ الوَريدِ

 Translation: NOW, VERILY, it is We who have created man, and We know what his innermost self whispers within him: for We are closer to him than his neck-vein. (Sura Qaf, ayah 16)

The other is the more public side, composed of our outward behavior, our appearance, our sayings and doings, open for all the observers. This is the social self and our social self varies according to each different context that we enter in our lives.

This distinction also relates to a more basic subject-vs.-object distinction in nature. A subject can be said to be an observer, a being that is conscious, that knows. Whereas, an object is simply a thing that is observed.  Thus all subjective beings themselves are available as objects for others’ observation. Here, Borges is treating his own ‘objective’ side as something distinct from him, the subject.  

The Persona

As you will read the essay, you will see that Borges is aware of the ’empty’ and ‘artificial’ quality of the social facade to which others react with awe and admiration given that this social facade belongs to a famous person. Even though, most of us are not famous, still we can related to this feeling of discomfort when we are the focus of others’ attentions. We can feel the essential distance that remains between the real us and the ‘presentation’ we are giving before others. This presentation rarely matches the original inner story as it is. In simple words, there may be only a few rare relationships where we are able to interact spontaneously and genuinely without any distortion or gaps introduced. We have to mold our urges and impulses into behavioral patterns that will be acceptable in the situation we are in.

Carl Jung  in his analytical psychology, called this ‘medium’ or ‘the point-of-contact’ between the real us and the society out there as persona. He literally described the persona as a mask. Borges seems to be painfully aware of the empty and fake nature of his mask and feels averse to it.

But the story of self is not this simple.

The Shadow

Persona is a reality of life, a process that is necessarily there, that cannot be by-passed. Most of us do feel uncomfortable more or less when our persona is activated but still we accept it as a necessary compromise. The fact that Borges is feeling so averse to this persona hints to other things.

Our self-awareness is never complete. At birth we have been born with a myriad of tendencies, not all of them have had a chance to come out in the open yet. While one reason for our full potentialities not being conscious is that we have not encountered the environment which naturally evokes and instills those latent capacities; another important reason is the discouragement and punishment we receive from our elders in our up-bringing when our skills and tendencies are expressed in forms that they consider as undesirable. Urges and impulses arising from these hidden potentials then remain unconscious – what Jung had called as the personal unconscious. There was also a more colorful term to reflect this layer of the self: the Shadow.

The word shadow has a negative connotation. It is so because of the negative feelings often associated by our repressed/suppressed tendencies: the original shame, embarrassment, or hatred caused when we received our punishments, whether verbal, physical or nonverbal.

When we confront those same tendencies in others (other ‘objects’ so to speak), we react negatively. In a way we ‘project’ our own ‘weaknesses’ on to the objects around us and feel averse. Since Borges has treated his persona as an object, he now projects his shadow onto it and feels averse. Notice all the negative qualities of that other Borges he cites in the short piece.

When he says things like: “I am giving over everything to him” he shows that he is more and more realizing that the real source of all the attributes of the shadow is his own unconscious. He cannot conveniently shoulder the blame on to the ‘demands of the social situation’.

However, the interesting point is that even where he acknowledges some valid accomplishment by this Borges, he is humble: He attributes his creations as a writer to ‘the language’ and ‘the tradition’ and says: “what is good belongs to no one”. Why is he saying so? Herein is actually a reference to a much more deeper and broader level of unconscious that Jung also conceptualized:

The collective unconscious

If what is good belongs to no one to whom does it belong then? Where does it come from then?

Borges is showing the sophisticated awareness that those ‘breezes’ of thoughts and ‘waves’ of feelings that we attempt to transform into words are rooted much deeper inside us than we may think. The range of our self-awareness is very short: at surface we think so and so, we are impressed by so and so. In reality, we have no idea what is the rootcause, the real source of that idea that urge; what was it in some external provocation that held us so strongly in its grip that we were stunned or awed or else were moved so gravely by it.

According to Jung, this deep source of everything, that cannot be consciously traced by us is actually the treasure-house of the whole range of human potentialities that we bring into this world, and that is common across all of us. If you think, every single bit of thought, inspiration, motivation, fear, desire, need, that we have had is not ‘originally ours’, not experienced by us and only us in the world. Thousands of people have experienced the same thing before. The unique combination of our experiences may indeed be ours but not the ingredients. This is what Borges means when he says what is good really belongs to none and this is the same idea that we encounter repeatedly in the Quran…

The universal Self

Jung identified several distinct ingredients (he called them archetypes) of this collective unconscious, the one most relevant here is the concept of the Self (or the objective psyche). Self actually is the harmounious human totality, in which all our diverse, and often opposite tendencies come together. As our Ego (the plainly conscious self, in Jung’s theory) comes to realize over the course of years, that the same people, objects and institutions often evoke very different and ambivalent responses in us: love hate, dependence independence, acceptance rejection, trust suspicion. To a more or less extent, the maturing Ego comes to understand and accept these apparent discrepancies, to resolve them or to reach and bring out in the open the complicated causes leading to such complicated responses. As this happens, we can say that the Ego is now more in line with the universal self. In Jung’s terms the Ego is becoming more and more individuated into or identifying with the Objective Psyche.

But this process is not easy. There are lot of anxieties on the way, a lot of fears to be encountered. The most significant fear is the threat of losing one’s individuality, realizing that one is nothing more than a human, nothing above and beyond a human, just that. I personally feel that it is this same fear that stops many of us from fully identifying with our God and from realizing our essential smallness and nothingness in His Omni-Presence.

With the fear of being nothing is tied the fear of ‘ending’ or ‘perishing’. What is a drop in a river? The river will keep flowing, but a drop…. might ‘not exist’ the next moment.  It is these fears that make the fictional Borges run away from the ‘shadow’ – the shadow which is actually a doorway, a threshold onto the much deeper layer of the collective unconscious in which resides the universal self… It is the same fear that makes Borges say: “my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.” (from the translation in the Mind’s I).

To sum up:

 وَجاءَت سَكرَةُ المَوتِ بِالحَقِّ ۖ ذٰلِكَ ما كُنتَ مِنهُ تَحيدُ

Translation: And [then,] the twilight of death brings with it the [full] truth – that [very thing, O man,] from which thou wouldst always look away! – (Sura Qaf, ayah 19)

Notes:

A nearly identical translated version of Borges’ piece along with the orginal in Spanish can be read here.

A different, more elaborated and somewhat scholarly version of this essay I wrote before this post which I am considering for publication. If it was published, I would share the link. JazakaAllah for your constant readership.