Category Archives: SpiritualHuman

Weapons Without Boundaries : a spiritual – humanist response to terrorism

by Musa Askari

originally published in InterReligious Insight – July 2012

img007 If we are going to address ourselves to the issue of terrorism let us state the obvious and most important at the outset: the threat of nuclear weapons. The weapon announced its arrival to the world by unleashing its horror over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stayed within our collective consciousness during the cold war and now, due to the one-sided debate on group terrorism, faded into the background. But it remains nonetheless real. It is impossible to comprehend fully the potential horror of such a weapon unleashing terror across the planet faster than any virus mutating across national boundaries.

The weapon and its fallout, like a virus, ignore national boundaries, recognising neither friend nor foe, neither oppressor nor oppressed. It is does not discriminate. It is non-ideological. The hypnotic pull of the weapon is in the illusion of power it offers those in possession of it. Furthermore, the hypnosis is so far reaching we remain reluctant to be rid of it. The ultimate paradox is that we are protecting ourselves by sustaining a weapon which holds within its capability the destruction of its creator, humanity itself.

A call from the Russell-Einstein Manifesto can be understood as a call to humanity to wake up from the spell of collective hypnosis:

“We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man (sic), whose continued existence is in doubt.”

The threat to humanity’s continued existence from weapons of mass destruction, stated by Russell-Einstein, is the canopy of “terror” under which humanity has been conducting its affairs for the last seventy years or so. It is a threat that has become embedded in our consciousness to such an extent that it assumes fantastical and mythical proportions. As Hasan Askari puts it: “After all, what is a myth? A myth is a public dream. What is a dream? A dream is a private myth.” It is a dream one remembers dreaming but cannot recall the details fully upon awaking.

More immediate and urgent than ecological concerns, if not on a par with them, humanity needs to be free from the terror of all weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological. To fulfil this extra-ordinary call, heeding the warning of Russell-Einstein, we need an equally extra-ordinary response of freeing ourselves from the grip of collective hypnosis. Unless we give up the old habit that by violence one can defeat violence we may not be able to save any innocent child’s life, born or unborn, now or years from now.

The nuclear weapon has no loyalty to either democratic or totalitarian nations. Is it not utterly shocking that the human intellect which unlocked the science to create such a weapon has resulted, through its proliferation, in creating a situation where the weapon can now destroy its creator? If this is not hypnosis then what is hypnosis? This is the unconscious terror under which we live and dare not look in the face: to behave in such ways where we believe we have freedom of choice when in reality our choices are governed by hypnosis.

To refer to Einstein once more: “God doesn’t play dice with the world.” We may now add: humanity does indeed play dice. What dangerous game of chance is it where the bet being waged is the continued existence of humanity? Whether one describes oneself as spiritual or a secular humanist, what is the value of that spirituality and humanism when such a weapon exists and we do not address ourselves to it? On this greatest of questions for human survival we require a combined, wholehearted, sustained spiritual-humanist response. When we talk of terrorism should it not be a minimum requirement to talk about the greatest threat humanity faces?

The real achievement of collective hypnosis is in its being hidden from our consciousness; by denying its own existence it continues to exist. At least a stage hypnotist asks for consent from an audience and removes the hypnosis at the end of the act. Collective hypnosis, on the other hand, neither asks for permission nor considers removing its influence. Let me cite again Hasan Askari:

“When I spoke in India after the atomic bombs were dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I said then (1950) that the ideology was dead, the weapon had surpassed it all. A quarter million people were destroyed in a couple of minutes. Man had acted against his own survival. Oppenheimer, the architect of the first nuclear device, while watching the mushroom cloud, had shouted that he had become the destroyer of the world. He then spoke on behalf of those governments of the world who could go on producing more and more deadly weapons, thinking that these weapons would give security and peace to the nations of the world. The irony is that the very ideological division in whose context the weapon was invented had vanished. But the weapon remains. The knowledge that produced it remains. Its potential users are all there. All these years I have waited for that idea that will surpass the weapon of mass destruction and the philosophy and the technology that produced it and that dark psyche which may use it. Hence, whichever ideology claims to meet the challenges of the world at this critical hour must call upon all mankind to rise to abolish weapons of mass destruction and abolish war altogether and every violent means to achieve any national or ideological ends. We then require a total commitment to honour and uphold each individual life. We have limitless resources within our soul to repel evil by the good, repel violence with non-violent means knowing that the truth has its own might to defend and protect itself.”

On one level the general debate seems fundamentally flawed, reduced to questions of power and control. On the one hand, it lends itself easily to rightly denouncing acts of violence carried out by interest groups, while on the other hand it is inconsistent in that equal attention is not paid to similar, if not worse, acts of aggression and violence linked to conflicts past and present by those in political power. A life lost is a life lost despite the ideology that inspires the act of violence. A life lost from either a suicide attack or a guided missile launched from thousands of feet is a precious life. At both ends of the spectrum of violence there is a person, family, neighbourhood, a child, hopes and aspirations. Thus any discussion of terrorism which does not look at the greater issue, loss of human life from any form of violence, is bound to fail due to its one-sided character, and this in turn perpetuates illusions, self- righteousness and collective hypnosis.

(The United Nations and security in a nuclear-weapon-free world)

SPIRITUAL CRITIQUE REQUIRED

A noticeable omission, so it appears to me, in the general news media is we are yet to be presented with some meaningful insight into the thinking of individuals, charged with or suspected of allegedly trying to commit horrific acts of violence. There is much news and information on movement between countries, occupations, academic backgrounds, other general details and so forth. One may track, locate and stop those who are committed to doing something deadly serious. However, beyond this physical security-led approach an attempt to present a spiritual critique becomes relevant when we come to religiously inspired group terrorism.

We may never know the inner psychological make up of each individual case. What we do know is that so-called religiously inspired terrorists, of whatever collective religion and political persuasion, present themselves as people of faith and that opens up the possibility of a spiritual response which both secular and faith-based humanists should be able to make together. Humanists cannot afford to wait on the sidelines and not participate in a joint spiritual-humanist critique of terror acts. A rationalist critique only of organised religion from humanists will not do. The time to revisit that is later.

We require a spiritual-humanist response addressed to the individual committed to acts of violence. The focus of our attention in any response must have at its heart the individual who would carry out a devastatingly merciless act of violence. If that means humanists and religious people need to go down the path of inquiring about spirituality together, so be it. It is in the individual where the hypnosis of terror takes hold, as it tempts individuals (and consequently nations) to respond to violent acts of terror with ever more violence, believing that “terror” has a physical locality – that if it is defeated by physical means in one place it will be defeated in every place. Let us admit that once and for all such an approach is absurd. We should have listened more attentively to those who were advocating an alternative to ever more violent responses to terrorism.

It is a trap we have fallen into it and tragically so many individual lives have been lost – individuals who make up a neighbourhood, city and country going about their daily lives. Whether it was Hiroshima or Nagasaki, Vietnam or Cambodia, Sri Lanka or Palestine, Chile or apartheid South Africa, Afghanistan or Iraq – a suicide attack by a Kamikaze pilot or a bomb exploding in some busy street – who can deny that in every instance the loss of individual lives is tragic beyond measure?

INDIVIDUAL GRIEF

It is individuals related by family or friendship who are left to suffer tremendous sorrow and heartache. They cope in their own way, with immense courage, to somehow carry the grief of their loss. As individuals we suffer, as individuals we grieve, as individuals we hope to rise again above the waterline of trauma and re-gather the shattered pieces of our lives, never forgetting to honour those who have been taken from us prematurely. Should we notice the grief and hear the testimony of mourners we are humbled. Should we hear one story of heartache surely we must also recognise and pay tribute to all such stories across the world, regardless of circumstance, political grievance, national and religious boundaries.

Why are we not permitted to hear, in her own traumatised voice, in her own language, the pleas of a mother in Afghanistan cradling her new born child who was alive only moments ago and now is no more? Why do our news media, for example, seem to insist in having an intermediary to that grief by placing their reporter on the television screen between the victim and ourselves? Who other could do justice to that grief but the grief-stricken themselves?

PURPOSE

I am reminded of the 2011 January 25th protests in Egypt where a man turns to the camera with his mouth bloodied saying: “Here is blood, there is terrorism”. Behind him on that night in Cairo we see crowds rushing for safety at the advance of security forces while the sound of gunshots can be heard. It is frightening watching it and one can only wonder what it must be like to have been there. What shall we say of any purpose behind violent acts of aggression by terrorist groups or states?

By “purpose” I imply something greater, universal, a goal to which every member of the human race can feel akin. A purpose which recognises that humanity’s past, present and future is both secular and sacred. Such a purpose excludes all forms of violence. A purpose which is a conscious self-thinking act by humanity. This to me is a purpose worth striving for in all peace. This to me is for the “common good”. What could be more common between each and every human being than “life” itself? What further good between us could there be than to honour the life of each and every self? Why should we not take a new direction and outdo one another in ever more greater acts of kindness, compassion and generosity upholding the common good, the principle of life?

SPIRITUAL SELF-PERCEPTION

With regard to so-called religiously inspired terror acts I would suggest that what is required is the shattering of religious self-righteousness. If one believes in a merciful and compassionate God, the Lord of “heaven and earth”, then is the mercy and compassion which characterises that Lordship to be understood as limited to a particular religion, region or piece of land, or is it not properly to be understood as universally transcending all divisions which we have created between us? We may need to take into account not only how a person perceives themselves socio-religiously but also “spiritually” – through what I would term “spiritual self-perception”.

By considering individual spiritual self-perception, asking questions about it, by altering the direction of our inquiry, we may yet steer a course away from a troubling development – a development which is another trap of collective hypnosis – that is, identifying the whole terrorist motivation of a small group of religiously motivated individuals with all of the followers of that religion worldwide. By doing so we do an injustice and miss the individual altogether, amplifying the effects of the physical horror, converting it into a general social suspicion of a faith body. Spiritual self-perception is a means to avoid all such developments, keeping our focus on the individual, thereby saving us from demonizing the other.

The ultimate responsibility for an act of terror cannot lie anywhere else but with the individual who commits it. Not a community, not a collective identity but simply and clearly the individual in sharp focus. An individual is more than a representational mix of collective identities. Let us not fall in to the trap laid by collective hypnosis of collective recrimination, isolating communities from each other.

The act has an actor. The script and stage may be controlled and set by others in power (groups/states). However, we cannot deny that the actor, as an individual, still has a choice to play the part or not. The sniper hiding in the rubble and the suicide bomber, both as individuals, have a choice to withdraw from the act. The choice, if it comes at all, may come very late, perhaps only moments before the act, or build up within the conscience of the individual. It is there, within the individual, that the sharp edge of terror, entering the world in a physical form, is born. It is to that moment of individuality that a narrative of spiritual self-perception attempts to speak to. How shall we speak to that individual?

Let us “speak” to that mind-set not just socially, morally, legally but also spiritually. Let us “ask” that individual to see others as individuals and think again.

It would be a mistake in my view, when preserving life is the prime motive, to neglect the question, “what is the individual spiritual self-perception foundation  of any religiously motivated act of violence?” There should be no substantive objection to the word “spiritual” when we are attempting to use it in terms of preventing life from being taken prematurely. The value of the word is not whether a secularist agrees with the concept of spirituality or not. The value is in the potential for presenting a critique to religiously inspired terror – a critique which both secular and faith-based humanists should be able to make independently or together.

Why should there be any objection to the word “spiritual”? Why should we not together bring to bear the whole of human experience (secular, religious, scientific, mystical and spiritual) on problems? As one could say to any religious extremist, “do you worship your religion as a god or do you worship God?”, so one could ask a secular humanist who objects to the word spiritual, “which is more important; your world view or saving Life?” We cannot afford the luxury of conflict between secular, religious and spiritual outlooks when trying to pursue all peaceful avenues for preserving life.

The individuality of the individual, however submerged and drowned out by collective identities, still remains; perhaps latent but not absent. Otherwise how can one seek to explain the phenomenon of those who were once terrorists but speak now against the dogma they once believed, unless they had come to assert some form of individuality? That trace of individuality can also be noticed when we learn of soldiers who are or have been conscientious objectors and refuse to serve any longer. Quoting Hasan Askari, “unless one becomes a universal being one remains below humanity.”

In the arena of universal individuality we may have a chance to appeal to those more valued principles shared by much of everyday humanity. Rebel against that foisted identity and come out of that collective hypnosis which sees violent reprisals as the only effective means. The focus of this reflection is on honouring the most universal of things, individual human life and the common good. For that principle of life to be universal it must sit outside, over and above, all ideology and collective identity.

LIFE

Outwardly, to “love thy neighbour” may be understood as to love that other who bears no resemblance to one’s collective identity of nationality, creed, language, race or religion. However, before the outer comes the inner. Before a thought there comes the thinker of that thought, the individual. Therefore, on the inner plane, there is another “neighbour” who both secular and faith-based humanists could have no disagreement about. It is a neighbour we take for granted far too often. Only when it has moved from its proximity to ourselves do we notice its absence. We abuse it, terrorise and torture it. We pay lip service to it and do not value it universally. It is all about us, it is all within us. Without this neighbour even our negligence of it is not possible. We raise countless tributes to it openly, only to betray it in secret. We honour it at one moment and in one place, at the same moment in a different place we dishonour. Through it all, throughout millennia, throughout all the wars humanity has conducted it has remained by our side. It has remained our constant companion even when we did not give it due recognition.

Who is this “neighbour” which has every right to seek justice for every injustice? It is simply and wonderfully, Life! From the sunrise of humanity to its sunset, each day, each night it is Life that is our nearest and dearest, our true next of kin. It is a kinship that bonds us to each and every human being on the planet. What a wondrous kinship it is indeed where it breathes through all outer kinships, through all divisions, through all diversity; it is the unity that binds us to each other. It is the Life of Humanity. As my late father used to say, “just reflect on the word Life!” I ask anyone contemplating any act of terror toward their fellow human beings to reflect on the word Life!

To repeat: as individuals we are more than any personal or collective identity; we are more than a nationality, creed, race or ethnicity, religion, caste or sect. May I suggest as humanists we cling to our identities lightly but not tightly: that such identities may inform our thinking but it is not essentially who we are. Spiritually, I would suggest we cling to such identities lightly with the hope that eventually we may let go of them so that what remains is the undivided individual. One un-differentiated self.

Nameless, we are born from our mother’s womb, unique and mysterious. In an attempt to identify that mystery, we are named. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it is a moving experience when the names of those who have died are read aloud at remembrance gatherings throughout the world. How many names are forgotten? How many children have perished in acts of violence? Let us pay tribute to that mystery of life universally so that when we remember the innocent victims of one attack in one place we remember all such victims in all places, from people living under oppression to those in so-called free societies.

When we claim our individuality do we really mean it? Or do we think of ourselves as individual representations of a collective identity. That individual representation can become, under the spell of collective hypnosis, very easy to ridicule and dehumanise. We have seen it in the past, we are seeing it now. When one stops “seeing” the other as an individual another kind of birth mentally has taken place: the birth of the oppressor.

Where pride in collective identities, in extreme cases, takes on an exclusive one-sided face there we are entering a hypnosis which, in preservation of that identity, can readily ignore the injustices inflicted upon others. A self conscious good takes hold. In preserving any collective life by oppressive means, psychological and physical, it begs the question: where is the individual when gripped by collective hypnosis? Quoting Hasan Askari again:

“Jung was critical of world events, and he put forward the notion of the collective consciousness or the collective hypnosis created by religion, race, culture and language. In that sense, I believe that what Freud calls illusion, what Marx calls the opium of the masses, what Durkheim calls collective representation, and what Jung calls collective hypnosis, all sum up the phenomenon of collective history restricted to one particular formulation.”

In recent times one of the most powerful symbols of individual non-violent responses to terror has been the image of “The Tank Man” from Tiananmen Square; a lone citizen making an unarmed stand against the march of tanks. The footage is deeply moving. A lone man standing in the middle of a boulevard, straight, still and defiant. No weapon, just his individuality. Outwardly on one side there is the “Tank Man”, alone. On the other side there is a line of tanks, a symbol of state military power. Inwardly, what in my opinion is also spiritual, the “Tank Man” has a far greater number standing behind him and beside him. They are invisible to the naked eye. They are to be found in every age and culture and in every place where people live under oppression and terror. They are the “individuals”.

We should recall there were two “Tank Men” that day. One standing before the tank and the other hidden from view driving the lead tank. What transpired between those two individuals staring at each other on that afternoon we will never know. What was he saying? Who was he? It is a mystery. At least this image is known. What of the unreported and ignored lives of those equally brave individuals standing up peacefully to terror and oppression all across the world? We saw them and we heard them during 2011 in what has become known as the Arab Spring. They continue their struggle.

The recognition of suffering and grief in order to be a true recognition must, as a consequence, involve the recognition of suffering and grief of all people everywhere. The people concerned cannot look the other way. One can only imagine what immense heartache they undergo and even after such imagining and empathy there is still perhaps an abysmal gulf between our imagination and their reality. A spiritual-humanist response to all forms of terrorism starts not in the world out there but instead within the heart and mind of each individual. To quote Hasan Askari:

“In my view, there should be a two-fold response to idealistic and ideological developments which result in self-complacency or collective hypnosis. First is a sociological response which helps people or the communities involved in knowing why a particular idealism / ideological formulation is becoming relevant to people at one time in history. The sociological critique would liberate us from a collective hypnosis and lead us into an objective self-understanding.”

“The second corrective is, in my view, a psychological critique that this one-sidedness has far reaching consequences for the human personality because here its humanity will be deformed, will be partialised, will be fragmented. In order to create a synthesis of the sociological and the psychological critiques we have to enshrine in our understanding and in our reflection another category, not just of attitude, but also the very characteristic of the truth we are seeking, namely openness, or willingness to listen to the other in his or her otherness.”

A Spiritual-Humanist response to all forms of terror, as well as being a questioning of power, oppression, violence and war, is also a journey to seek the truth of our inter-connections as individuals. It will be a multi-faceted journey with many co-travellers: secular and faith based humanists being co-present recognising one another, bearing co-witness for the mutual goal of preserving and valuing LIFE in all its diverse and wondrous manifestations. The best among them being the Life of a child who expects the world to save it from the worst of what humanity has done in the past and who hopes for a different future.

CONCLUSION

Finally, concluding these, admittedly broad, reflections let me re-state the greatest threat to human survival: the nuclear weapon, which, in my view, is a crime against every single living individual human being. As we worry rightly about handing over to future generations the problems of ecological disaster, let us not also hand over to a future humanity an inheritance which includes the terror of weapons of mass destruction. The taking of any life anywhere, regardless of who comes to know about it, through any form of terror act, is a crime against the whole “single cell” of humanity. A humanity richly diverse is a wonder and mystery – secular and religious, material and spiritual, physical and meta-physical. As Hasan Askari put it, humanity “stands for a hidden, universal unity across all physical and racial boundaries.”

See also

Human Nature by Hasan Askari  

Spiritual Humanism speech by Hasan Askari, 1995

Ideological Dogmatism by Hasan Askari

From Inter Religious Dialogue to Spiritual Humanism by Hasan Askari

“Bulletin of Atomic Scientists”

Article VI – NPT Treaty “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/bedlam_code/data/2012-07_a4.pdf

Inside the Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Ray Monk (review via London Review of Books)

“Spiritual Human” Interview with Antony Thomas

“Film-maker Antony Thomas has won recognition and acclaim throughout the world for his powerful and thought-provoking programmes. Born in Calcutta, Thomas was taken to South Africa when he was six years old. He moved to England in 1967, where he has written, directed and produced 40 major documentaries and dramas. He is also author of a highly-acclaimed biography Rhodes, the Race for Africa. Thomas’s films have taken the top prizes at numerous documentary festivals, including the most prestigious — the US Emmy Award, the George Foster Peabody Award, the British Academy Award and the Grierson Award for best British Documentary. Two of his documentaries, Twins – The Divided Self and Man and Animal won fourteen international awards between them.

Thomas has succeeded in creating programmes with a strong message that are also highly popular. The opening programme of his 1998 series on obesity, Fat, won three awards from the British Medical Association and was also one of the ten most popular programmes of the week in the UK, with an audience of 9.5 million. When his drama Death of a Princess was originally shown in the United States, it earned one of the highest ratings in the history of PBS, while his 2004 programmes on the Ancient Greek Olympics were sold to 83 countries.

In 2007, his documentary, The Tank Man, was invited for special screenings at the US AGM of Amnesty International and the United States Congress.

His recent work includes a two-hour documentary on The Qur’an (co-produced by Channel 4 and National Geographic) which premiered in the UK on July 14th 2008, and has subsequently been seen in 32 counties; How do you know God exists? which premiered in the UK on August 16th 2009 and For Neda, a documentary special for HBO, which tells story of Neda Agha Soltan…” (For more on the work of Antony Thomas please visit his website http://www.antonythomas.co.uk/ )

Sincere thanks to Antony Thomas for agreeing to this interview.

Musa Askari: As a documentary film-maker you have talked about having “no idea where the beginning, middle and end of the programme is”. I would like to inquire however about another “beginning”. A beginning of questions formulated through your reflections. Questions which perhaps first attract you to a project as like standing at the circumference of a dimly outlined circle with new questions coming to light during the spontaneity of filming as you traverse various radii toward the centre or heart of the piece.

Whenever you undertake a project would it be fair to say it is generally governed by a set of key questions? Also could you please talk a little about how such initial questions of inquiry are arrived at and to what extent you rely upon your instinct and intuition for guidance through the project?

Antony Thomas: Yes. It is fair to say that my work is governed by a set of questions – in some cases a single question.  “How do you know that God exists?”  “What does the Qur’an actually say?” – to mention two of my more recent films. 

What matters most to me is research in depth. “Instinct and intuition” may help to guide one to the right people and the most relevant source material, but the principle aim is to discover as many perspectives as you can on the subject you have decided to tackle, and that has to take place before any filming starts.

Musa Askari: I would like ask about your inner “experience” on the craft of editing. You have talked about there being a period of reflection before the actual editing commences. That “something very strange happens” and eventually the “whole thing seems to fall in to place”. This I find fascinating and grateful if you could share some insights on the experience of “something strange” and the recognition of things falling in to place.

Antony Thomas: We need to distinguish between the two types of programme I’ve been involved on – pure documentary and docudrama.  In the case of the latter, one is following a script.  It’s an inflexible form; the beginning, middle and end are known before you start filming. 

I would never approach “pure documentary” in the same way, because of the danger that one might (consciously or unconsciously) manipulate what is happening in front of the camera so that it fits into the preordained plan.   The decision to film a particular scene or to interview a particular individual should be based on the conviction that they are relevant to the story you are telling, but there are times when the whole experience turns out to be very different from what was anticipated, and one must always be true to that.  

After the filming is over, I generally spend a couple of weeks looking through all the material that we’ve shot, and it’s quite extraordinary how clearly the structure starts to emerge – and, of course, it’s a structure based on the truth and not on some pre-ordained plan.

Musa Askari: “Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work.” Plotinus (The Enneads: 1.6.9) 

Plotinus, the father of Neo-Platonism, the mystic-philosopher whose work is soul through and soul, is talking about sculpting as a reference to inner self mastery, a spiritual endeavour. There is on the one hand a sculptor seeking to bring forth a material expression of beauty, and on the other hand a documentary film-maker, in my view, also seeking beauty, perhaps a beauty non-material, not of marble, stone or wood. But rather beauty to be found through heartfelt testimonies of people interviewed, of ideas expressed. In other words a quest for “truth” at the heart of the issue being investigated is a beautiful quest. That “truth” in essence is beautiful but also enlightening, liberating and awakening.

As a principle would you agree that sculptor and film-maker have a common bond in the pursuit of “Beauty”? And in general to what extent would you consider editing akin to the art of sculpting?

Antony Thomas: I have to be very frank about this.  I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a sculptor, or seen a sculptor at work, so I’m not really equipped to answer that question.

Musa Askari: Through your work on “Death of a Princess” (1980), “The Tank Man” (2006) and most recently “For Neda” (2010) these appear to be, apart from the social and political context, powerful representations of individual lives. In your opening sequence to “The Tank Man” for example we are presented with images on the vastness of Tiananmen Square and you comment about “treeless spaces” and “monumental buildings“. As we survey these images of the square your narration talks about, “the insignificance of the individual before the might of the state.”

Could you please talk a little on what you find compelling about individual lives which are caught up within great currents of society and state?

Antony Thomas: As you know, most of my documentaries have strong political or religious themes, but I am not the slightest bit interested in theory and dogma.  What matters to me are the practical outcomes. I want to the viewer to feel what it’s really like to be living under this or that system.  I don’t want to be up there on podium listening to the Head of State or the Pope, I want to be down on the ground floor of ordinary human experience.   

The reviews that make me happiest are those that suggest that this method is working, like this one, in response to a documentary I made in Egypt some time ago:  “I have seen many documentaries telling me what it was like to be in Egypt, yet this was the first one to spell out, both beautifully and brutally, what it felt like to be an Egyptian.” 

Musa Askari: I find the liberating power of the individual no better expressed in your work than in “The Tank Man”. A lone man standing in the middle of a boulevard, straight, still and defiant. No weapon, just his individuality. It is seems remarkable to me with so much violence having taken place already, so many individual un-armed lives already brutalised the night before on June 4th 1989, why the driver of the lead tank halted at all. What transpired between those two as they stared at each other we may never know. As we witness the bravery of one man standing before the lead tank, an image which has become an icon of freedom, we are also witnessing the actions of another man who is hidden from view. Namely, the driver of the lead tank. Enfolded within the machinery of military power, represented by a tank, the individual is not only insignificant (recalling your quote earlier) but also absent. Yet here in this event, in this image, the individual is unmasked for all to see in the clear light of a noon sun confronting symbolically a state power and in doing so invites the driver of the lead tank, for a few minutes, to become an individual also.

Would you agree perhaps there were two “Tank Men” that day in Tiananmen Square? And I would be grateful for your thoughts on when you first saw the footage of this anonymous individual making a brave and selfless stand.

Antony Thomas: Yes. I certainly remember the powerful emotions I felt when I first saw that image of a young man, standing in front of that column of tanks, and I completely agree with the point you make.  There were two heroes that day – one unseen inside the lead tank, and one standing in the road with his back to us.  I’m afraid it’s likely that both of them shared the same fate.

Musa Askari: I note your interest in religion, through works such as “Thy Kingdom Come” (1987), “The Quran” (2008) and more recently “How Do You Know That God Exists?” (2009), and present the following quotes from my late father whose work and reputation I understand you are familiar with.

“The prospect of a religion reflecting the Absolute absolutely would turn that religion into the most dogmatic and oppressive belief system imaginable. Hence, there should be room between the religions for mutual critique and complementarity. In turn, this should generate a religious need for religious plurality and diversity.” (Professor Syed Hasan Askari: From Interreligious Dialogue to Spiritual Humanism http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/January2004/Jan04Askari.html

“It was Brumana consultation in 1972 in Beirut the biggest Christian – Muslim consultation of the century, that in my paper I made it absolutely clear that perhaps, perhaps we need more than one religion. How could one dare to equate the Almighty Unity and Transcendence and Mystery with the form of one faith and practice?” (Professor Syed Hasan Askari: speech on Spiritual Humanism, 1995 https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/speech-hasan-askari-spiritual-humanism/

Through your work, research and study of religion could you please talk about your observations when an exclusive one-sided approach to religious witness is taken at the expense of the universal and inclusive? And to what extent do you think the direction of inter-religious dialogue has changed or stayed the same since your interest in religion and inter-faith began?

Antony Thomas: I agree with every word that you have quoted from your father’s writings. The tension and violence, not only between people of different faiths, but between co-religionists is one of the greatest tragedies of our time.   

I know many wonderful people who are trying to reach out across these divisions, but in spite of all their efforts, it seems to me that the problem is more serious now that at any other time in my life.

In Memory of Syed Mohmmed Taqui

In Memory of Syed Mohmmed Taqui

by Syed Musa Askari

To learn of the passing of a loved one thoughts issue forth like the dawn of a sunrise. The first ray of light followed by countless rays that, due to their brilliance, are now indistinguishable one from the other. There is only light. Light upon Light. 

When I heard the news of the passing of my dear uncle Syed Mohmmed Taqui I felt the sun of his soul had fully risen. As if the entirety of a life was akin to the slow gradual rise of the sun above the horizon, the last tip of the sun having bid fare-well to the line of horizon. A line drawn from birth to the moment of passing. A line along which a life had been lived. A line that was drawn horizontally is now drawn vertically leading one to another life, another horizon, another sunrise. 

A life lived is more than the trace of footsteps left in its wake. Above all it is a sign of journeying from here to there, from right to left, from below to above. All the rotational points forming a circle of many dimensions. Our life as soul to sojourn knowing the permanence of our abode is “elsewhere”. No place of locality, but eternal, placeless and traceless. To become “homeless” innerly we are home. I pray for the continued safe journey of the soul of Syed Mohmmed Taqui.  

When reflecting upon one’s own life or the life of another it is as if we are always watching a sunrise. There is no death only the beginning of another journey. The birth of a life is the sun rising, a new “day”, our whole life as one “day”. For the Soul knows this association with body is but a fleeting moment within many moments.  

The reverse I find holds more in it, not the setting of a sun, not the receding light of a life lived but the full glory of a magnificent sunrise. We are left to bathe in the light of his life, the mark of all that was and remains the best of his life. No mark such as that of a seal, of ring impressed upon wax, no impression such as this to be worn away by the weathering of time. Rather a mark made upon one’s consciousness, one’s heart and one’s soul. 

The mark of his life summed up in words such as courage, strength, compassion and great humour. I will forever remember the glint in his eye and the warmth of his smile. When these two qualities combined, there in those moments, I recall now one was meeting the essence of his nature. 

What to speak of sadness and grief? How to speak of sadness and grief? These deep feelings for us left behind to undergo. Clutching to them like the trailing string of a kite set aloft to the wind, cut free from the bonds of the hand that held it with love during its flight before our eyes. It flies now held by and tugged by another Hand.  

A child stands upon a rooftop balcony; a kite flies from its hand. A tug, a lengthening of the string followed by a firm grip. Without warning the kite breaks free, separated from its connection with the earth as like the passing of a life from this world. The face of the child aghast and distressed. The smile upon his face moments ago is no more. A tearful sadness and perhaps a desperation takes hold; a longing to taste again the sense of freedom through the symbol of a kite imparting. 

The kite swaying in the wind like a leaf set free from some branch. The trailing string of the kite passing overhead; a prayer leaps forth with hope to reclaim it. The child rushes to the street below and searches patches of sky in-between the towering buildings as if looking for a lone cloud in a cloudless sky. A fleeting glimpse of the kite gliding overhead, the heart races, a memory recalled. He turns corner after corner just about keeping pace with the trailing string but the kite itself is out of view. 

His hand outstretched while he runs ahead as if the roles are now reversed. Where the kite once danced to the tune of the child’s hand it is the child which is now beckoned. The joy which was the mark of friendship between the kite and child still remains though now expressed differently. An invisible bond connects them. 

This journey of following a kite, a free spirit, akin to a mystical relationship between a master and disciple. One may live an entire lifetime until eventually the kite and follower must part ways. The kite has brought the child to the shores of a mighty ocean and flies on to the horizon. There is sadness; there is grief as like the passing of a loved one. 

He raises his hands in prayer to the Supreme, bidding a final fare-well to his beloved kite, his master. A prayer of gratitude, a prayer of friendship, a prayer of love. As his hands pass over his face he feels each line, each groove, each fork and twist. Each line a path the kite had lead him to tread. Each line upon his hands a horizon upon which countless suns had risen and set during the course of their journey. The child has now become a man. He looks up to the horizon. The sun is rising upon the ocean. 

It is the dawn of a new life. This journey of longing, sadness, mourning and grief has not been in vain. It has cleansed entire. The kite flies on to the horizon. Soon there is no kite to be seen. Only a glorious sunrise. Each soul moves toward a greater horizon should it so choose. Each kite longs to fly freely to meet the rising sun. 

May the Light of a Greater Sun forever shine upon the soul of Syed Mohmmed Taqui. May the horizon to which his soul journeys draw ever nearer.

 

“Reflections on the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi” by Musa Askari

“Reflections on the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi” by Musa Askari

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen”

It was my late father, Syed Hasan Askari, who introduced me to the prayer of St Francis many years ago. My introduction came in the form of hearing it read aloud. Perhaps to come to a new prayer not by reading it first but by hearing it one is somehow  able to let the prayer rest more gently upon one’s soul. Especially if hearing it read by a person one trusts. Therefore, prayer may also be understood not only as a sign of devotion but also trust between seekers of truth and greater still a sign of Trust in a Higher Power to which the prayer is directed.  

To hear such words of love and devotion for the first time resonated very deeply. In the years to follow the prayer would become one among many of my constant sources of inner support. I would not only read it in silence or remember it during the course of a day but moreso I would make a point of reciting it by whispering it to myself at some late hour of the night. Through this whispering recital the prayer became more real, an experience, not only of emotional support but far beyond that to moments of  experiencing the prayer as a form of being itself. That it almost had a life of its own. A life in which I was hoping to participate if only momentarily due to varying levels of inner intention and alterness.

Over and above the actual form, order and beauty of the words it is worth exploring, if only superficially through this reflection, the manner in which the prayer is working upon our inner being. What is its outer effect and what is its inner influence? What kind of inner preparation is required to utter such words as authentically as possible? If one is an “instrument” it begs the question who is the invisible artist and what is the melody that is being played? In what way, if at all, do the first and second verses talk to one another? Does a prayer stop when we have finished uttering its words of devotion and praise? Or is there a life, above our own embodied life, in which the prayer perpetually participates? Are prayers, in the form presented to us by inspired individuals who first uttered them, an echo of a far greater recital of praise and devotion that goes on above our consciousness?

Where there is an echo there must be a source from which it emanates. Where there is vibration there must be the beat of a drum. Where there is beauty there must also be the eye which recognises it as such. Where there is thought there must a thinker. And where there is a question there must be a clue or the answer complete. Is there such a question and answer present within the prayer of St. Francis? Is there any such dialogue implied between the one who prays and One to whom the prayer is directed?

At first glance perhaps not. However, if one looks more closely, at the first verse in particular, the following may be a clue where there are six question and answers present and not only that but clear intruction or remedy provided.

Take for example the line, “where there is injury,pardon”. By considering it as three lines a dialogue becomes apparent:

We ask, “Where is injury?”

The prayer answers, “There is injury”

Remedied by, “Pardon.”  

Take another line: “where there is despair, hope”: 

We ask, “Where is despair?”

The prayer answers, “There is despair”

Remedied by, “Hope.”

Is it not so that through most of our heartfelt prayers, either handed down by tradition or uttered by oursevles spontaneously, we somehow feel in “conversation” with the Supreme? It is into such a “conversation” the prayer of St Francis invites us to enter. In other words, consciously or unconsciously, the human soul is in constant “communication” with its Source. A Source from which it emanates and to which it longs to return. It is perhaps this “communication”, this greater dialogue, that the prayer somehow lifts the reciter innerly to become more conscious of. All great prayers take us in this direction. The prayer becomes a door into another kind of awareness.

Prayer, as both dialogue and a form of worship, is a most peculiar kind of dialogue. We are asking questions and we hear only our voice. A voice that may be frail and shaking, through some traumatic experience, or overjoyed with gratitude for what we have been shown or recevied. The answer to our prayers, however, is heard in silence. The Great Silence of The Supreme Presense, the First and the Last. The Hidden and the Manifest, everywhere and yet nowhere, Immanent and Transcendent. I am reminded of the following from an much earlier piece of writing of mine, “It is in such silence that the Divine Command is uttered perhaps”(The Sound of Silence, 1992) https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/the-sound-of-silence/

In our corporeal nature we hear corporeal things. How can the physical ear hear an answer from One who is Supremly immaterial and Beyond Being? Therefore, silence and patience become the means through which our inner ear becomes more atuned and there we may wait, atentive, alert, humble and above all listening by stilling all distraction within our lives, touching the fringes of a greater peace. Hearing as it were by another mode.

In the prayer of St. Francis we have a deeply moving dynamic where not only are question and answer co-present but also the remedy or instruction to the question. The prayer consoles, reassures and embraces all at once. There is no delay in compassion. The remedies of love, pardoning, hope, faith, light and joy are instantly provided as soon as the question and answer are complete. Infact, the prayer does not wait to be asked how one corrects the disorder within and without. It rushes the remedy towards us faster than we inhale our next breath. Life before life.

One may choose simply to reflect or meditate upon only one line of the prayer and be moved beyond measure. The question, “where is despair?” may be asked outwardly addressing the world and we are presented with images of oppression between human beings or come across testimonies of those who continue to suffer and through such images and accounts we are told innerly, “look! there is despair”. All one need do is ask the question wholeheartedly, compassionately and sadly too many answers come flooding to our consciousness of lives lived in despair. The prayer challenges to ask and notice the other and by doing so abolish otherness from our being. One need not look far to see despair if one chooses not to walk by on the other side. On the other hand the same question maybe asked about oneself to oneself, “where is despair?”. Here personal courage is needed, for now we are looking into the face of our lives and should we be able to peer with unwavering inner strenth the answer comes, “there is despair”, directing us to some long forgotten memory or unravelling chains of thought which enslave and cripple us mentally, distancing us from the world and from ourselves.

To both outward and inwardly directed questions on despair the answer is the same, “hope”. In other words, do not despair, there is hope. The very question itself is “hope”. The question carrying within itself its own liberating power. The question is hope “embodied” as a thought. The question cannot come from an abyss of utter want or lack, the question must carry with it the source which sent it on its way. As referred to previously; the prayer consoles, reassures and embraces all at once. It can only do so if it is enveloped by an inspired inspiration. In the outer form of one line, the question and answer go hand and hand, as like two hands coming together in prayer.

Further, the first verse gives us another insight. It offers a definition of “peace”. Of what “peace” means when commencng a recital of the prayer. Here peace is to love. It is also to pardon, to have faith which implies to trust, to be hopeful for the Light of the One to whom the prayer is addressed is neverfailing and our overriding inner state of such peace in that moment is to be joyful.

The prayer of St. Francis begins in the name of peace and that is perhaps why it has survived to this day and recited by so many. The human heart in perpetual quest for peace. If humanity’s “humanity” is to mean anything it must surely begin with peace regardless of it being called sacred or secular. The Russell – Einstein Manifesto (1955) sums it up beautifully, “We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.”

Would that those who wage war in the name of “peace” remember such qualities of peace as offered by St. Francis. Would that they pause and re-think in “silence” if they truly are bringing peace or the oppositie of peace which the prayer of St. Francis does not shy away from making clear. Namely, hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness.

In my view the first verse is where the inner work is to be done. The first verse prepares the inner ground, turns the soil, so that we may “sow” such seeds as love and hope. Thus making the earth of our being a fertile ground from which may spring, over the ocean of our consciousness, all that the second verse leads us toward. The second verse finally frees us from enslavement to our ego-bound mindlessness. Of collective hypnosis from our exclusive one-sided attitudes to identities of race, ethnicity, culture, creed and ideology (religious or humanist).

We are in a totally new frame not only of mind but consciousness when proceeding through the second verse line by line. When the first verse has “consoled” us, “understood” and “loved” us like a kind friend or beloved. When it has enriched and pardoned us our failings. When we have been transformed within and without through the power of the first verse then, and only then, we may truly mean the words which pass by our lips of surrender from the second verse. We ask nothing for ourselves when we have been given more than could have been asked for. Now, one may recall how the prayer began, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”.

Through the discourse on soul we are told body is the instrument of soul, the material is later to the immaterial. Yet, it is not the body which seems to be the “instrument” implied when we notice how the prayer ends, “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” What other could it be that perishes, passes away, than body? And what other than soul could we speak of when we speak of life eternal? It is soul that has the right to eternal life. Only soul un-embodied remains immortal. Soul, impartible, invisible, indivisible, non-material companion of our self, both one and many at the same time.

The higher levels of the beautfiul prayer of St. Francis may only be reached when perhaps we consider the prayer to a prayer of the soul. An echo of a greater prayer that continues above our consciousness. What the words of that greater recital may be, only as souls shall we come to know. Soul, here and now.  Peaceful greetings to the soul of St. Francis of Assisi.

I conclude this brief reflection with the words of my teacher:

“Pray that you are granted an unbroken awareness of your higher soul, that which is the authentic principle of your being, that un-embodied, immortal, all pervading reality, which is one and entire everywhere, every time; that which is in perpetual contemplation of the Divinity above it, that which remains separate, apart, above all you do, relate, experience and suffer as a…body here. Remember it, for it is the true source of your peace and power. Remember.” (Hasan Askari, “Pray” from his book “Alone to Alone”)

Originally published as guest article http://soul-licious.com/?p=918 Thank you to Mia Caruso for asking me to write about the Prayer of St Francis.

See also: Prayer for my Parents & O Light of Lights

“The Eternal One” by Lee & Steven Hager

“The Eternal One” by Lee & Steven Hager 

reflection on the work of Hasan Askari

We didn’t have the privilege of meeting Hasan Askari while he walked
this earth, but we have come to know him through his son Musa, and his
abiding spirit that continues to live through his words. As Hasan
himself said, “A book written by a sage is like the residence in which
he still lives.”
We felt especially drawn to Hasan because he was

among those rare seekers who looked both within and then is also able
to look without. He recognized, “Before we ask about the other out
there, we should ask about the other in us, our nobler and loftier
neighbor and companion, Soul.”
But instead of becoming caught up

solely within his personal inner explorations as many do, Hasan turned
his attention to the problems that fill our world. His work speaks of
his heartfelt desire to help others look past the outward religious
dissimilarities that separate us and instead discover the great truths
that unite us all at the core.
 
Enlightenment can be described as an inner awakening that allows us to
see past the illusion of separate forms and realize the Oneness of All
That Is. Hasan wrote, “The life which is multiple and diverse at the
human end is One at the Divine end.”
He was not the first person to

awaken to this truth, and he won’t be the last, but it was extremely
important to him that we all see beyond our humanity and make a
connection at the level of the soul. Hasan recognized that while
religion has often been a huge bone of contention, it can also become
a tool for unity when we understand that all souls are united by the
same eternal truths, and those seeds of truth can be found within
religion when we look past the surface.
 
In the introduction of his translation of “Solomon’s Ring: The Life
and Teachings of a Sufi Master,” Hasan said, “I was looking for a
language which could make dialogue possible and mutually enriching
between people of different religious traditions. I was already free
from sectarian and religious dogmatism…Real speech was for me a
linking of soul with soul.”
Hasan found that language when he

discovered the distinction between belief and faith. He wrote, “While
belief is a part of the cumulative tradition, faith is the personal
immediate possession of each individual by which one relates to one’s
life…faith is thus an inner ability to relate and communicate without
fear”

So much of the world’s self-imposed misery could be avoided if
humanity embraced that understanding. As Hasan recognized, we often
mistakenly cling to the trappings of religion, much as we cling to the
outer trappings and traditions of our national origins, because we
mistakenly believe they define us. In doing so, we fail to ask
ourselves how something that is essentially non-material (the Self or
soul) could be defined by something associated with the material. We
become militant in their defense because we fear being swallowed up
and lost, but as Hasan pointed out, “Love is the harmony into which
all contradictions resolve.”
Love is the glue that holds us in

oneness, but we cannot see it when we’re tied to outward appearance.
But if we dug up several different types of trees and looked only at
the roots, we would find that it’s very difficult to tell them apart.
 
However, as Hasan recognized, opening ourselves to others requires
courage. Hasan’s son Musa relates that we must first recognize that
the ‘other’ is not truly ‘other,’ but “someone from whom one can
learn; that their experience has something deeply meaningful to
offer.” We find this a frightening prospect because, as Musa points
out, we “run the risk of being transformed positively by the witness
and testimony of the other.” Our first challenge, if we wish to see
positive changes in our world, is to stop seeing anyone else as
‘other’ and embrace Oneness.
 
We are surely at a critical time in man’s history. Certainly human
beings have always been at odds, but we have never before had the
capability of ending our arguments by obliterating life as we know it.
If there was ever a time to heed the words of visionaries and
peacemakers like Hasan Askari, it is now. Our differences have not
given us anything of value, our oneness can.
 
Where there is no other, there is no fear. To the extent this
awareness is obscured, fear will rise in the same degree
—Hasan Askari 

____________

Lee & Steven Hager, the authors of “The Beginning of Fearlessness: Quantum Prodigal Son.” Writing about themselves, “We’re just like you. We have no special qualifications, but after years of struggle, we discovered the key to living a life of fearlessness. If we could, you can too.” Please continue reading more about Lee & Steven and their unique journey of living a life of “fearlessness” http://www.thebeginningoffearlessness.com/

See earlier article on this blog by Lee & Steven “That’s Good” https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/thats-good-by-lee-steven-hager/

“Encounter of a third type..” by Aline Hanle – Guest Post

Bio: “Closely known as the Soul Whisperer, Aline offers you the most delicate way to look at yourself. Her insightful gift of sensing the subtle that she refined throughout her fifteen years of studying the ancient Wisdom of the world, opened her heart to the fascinating world of new consciousness. Aline feels that her work creates a bridge between what we experience and who we truly are. This bridge allows the mind to safely travel along the road of introspective searches. Aline is an artistic mystic born with the remembrance that anyone’s genius is accessible with the opening of the heart. While unveiling her own talent, she discovered the gateway to her soul. Her passion for Life is the Catalyst for her vision. It endlessly ignites spark of creativity that she has learned to manage with the Wisdom of the Heart.”  
                                             Bloghttp://mysacredsanctuary.blogspot.com/
 
 
“Encounter of a third type..”
by Aline Hanle
 
When the heart opens to its original sustenance, it naturally aligns with those who vibrate with a greater sense of self. A sense that let the mind be puzzled by the unfathomable or lost in the unknown. When the thought is anchored beyond the mind and reaches the depth of the legend of Life, the words that swirl down and compose its vision, transform simple sentences into poetry and ordinary perceptions into visions of delight.

When I first discover Hasan’s work, it didn’t feel like the typical academic authority. Although highly polished and undoubtedly reflective, it felt, to me, enlightened and inspired. It was more than a human being sharing his view, it was a Soul sharing his memory. It was like a trail of wonders laid before my heart that I was invited to walk on, sit in and come back anytime for more remembrance. 

It was a call for my Soul to dive deeper into the mystery of its source. I felt like taken for a dance from a post to another, like a swirl keeping my heart effortlessly open while memories were triggered one by one. 
 
Many time, I teared up while my eyes were following the words and the sentences. They seem to be aligned in such a way that not only do they carry the light of their individual vibration but more so the space in between seems to be filled with even more intensity, so that the whole becomes a gentle earthquake for the mind and a powerful awakening for the Soul.

While much greatness is to be read and felt through Hasan’s work, it cannot take away the other part of the Greatness of the legacy that Hasan has left for us. Part of Hasan’s legacy is also Musa and his own vision. While carrying, with Grace and Humility, the prestigious name of Hasan Askari, Musa also carries an heritage of vibrations, shared moments and silent gifts that can be felt by simply being in his Presence. 
 
I am forever grateful for the gift of crossing Musa’s path and the blessing of his sharing as well as His Beloved Father’s work. Hasan represents the Mystical Father I had dreamt to have and Musa is the brother that is sharing him with me.
 
 

“That’s Good” by Lee & Steven Hager

Lee & Steven Hager, the authors of “The Beginning of Fearlessness: Quantum Prodigal Son.” Writing about themselves, “We’re just like you. We have no special qualifications, but after years of struggle, we discovered the key to living a life of fearlessness. If we could, you can too.” Please continue reading more about Lee & Steven and their unique journey of living a life of “fearlessness” http://www.thebeginningoffearlessness.com/about/

“That’s Good”

Written onAugust 27, 2011 by Lee & Steven Hager

http://www.thebeginningoffearlessness.com/2011/08/27/thats-good/

We say those two words quite often, but almost always in relation to something happening outside of us, something we have judged as positive, something that appears to be ‘in our favor.’  Of course judgment cuts two ways, so we will inevitably find ourselves saying two other words: “That’s bad.” Although we regularly hear people use the popular catch phrase, “It’s all good,” most who utter those words continue to label their own experiences as either good or bad.

When we view life from the perspective of good/bad, right/wrong, positive/negative, we live on a constantly swinging pendulum that’s set in motion by the things occurring outside us. The energy from our happiness sends the pendulum swinging in one direction. But when the conditions that caused our happiness no longer fuel our energy, the loss of momentum will inevitably send the pendulum swinging back in the opposite direction and we become unhappy. Much as we would like, it’s impossible to keep the pendulum on the side of “That’s good.”  However, it is possible to be an exception to this rule.

It was said that the Taoist sage, Chuang Tzu, replied, “That’s good,” no matter what anyone told him. As you can imagine, this caused many who had come to Chuang Tzu with their bad news to go away offended or come to the conclusion that Chuang Tzu was either deaf or had lost his wits. Why would a man known for his wisdom treat the misery of others in such an apparently unfeeling manner? But it was also reported that Chuang Tzu said, “That’s good” when he was told that his own son’s legs had been broken in an accident. On the surface this appears senseless.  To tease out the meaning, let’s look at the story of another wise man that treated his own misfortune in the same way.

Recently our dear friend Musa Askari (also one of our guest bloggers) acquainted us with a wonderful book of Sufi wisdom stories titled Solomon’s Ring. It contains the stories of Sufi master Ghauth Ali Shah Qalander that were scribed by his disciple, Gul Hasan. The stories were translated from the original Urdu language by Musa’s father, Hasan Askari, a highly respected Urdu scholar and linguist.  As we quote a few lines from one of these stories, also titled “Solomon’s Ring,” you cannot help but notice the similar responses of Chuang Tzu and Solomon:

“It is said that when Solomon lost his ring of power and wisdom he said, ”Al Hamdu ‘Lillah [All praise be to God].  And when he found the ring, then also he said, “Al Hamdu ‘Lillah”

Not only did Solomon consider each incident ‘good,’ he gave thanks for it. Since Solomon’s wisdom was legendary, we might assume that it was the ring itself that gave Solomon’s wisdom and great power. In that can case, we would expect that the loss of the ring would receive a very different reaction. Yet Solomon, like Chuang Tzu, met each supposedly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ experience with the same response. How did these sages manage to avoid the extremes of emotion we so often feel in connection with the things we judge to be either good or bad? What did they know that enabled them to evaluate all occurrences in the same way?

Let’s return to Chuang Tzu. He said “That’s good” after he was told about his son’s accident, and the people thought he was crazy. The next day when soldiers came and hauled their sons away to force them into the army and Chuang Tzu’s son was not taken, they thought he was insightful. When his son’s impending marriage was called off and Chuang Tzu said, “That’s good,” they thought he was crazy. When the ex-fiancé died a few days later, they praised Chuang Tzu’s insight once again. Like Chuang Tzu’s neighbors, we might think that he could see into the future, but instead he had insight that was far more valuable.

Chuang Tzu didn’t stop the pendulum swing by controlling his reactions to things that happened outside him; he had gotten off of the pendulum all together. This doesn’t mean he was apathetic or disengaged, he just saw things in a very different way and was responding from that perpective.  Although he understood that conditions and experiences in this world would continually change, he had become attuned to something far greater. He called this something the Tao; you may call it God, universe, All That Is. The name doesn’t matter, but understanding that this greater power lifts us out of the duality of good/bad, right/ wrong, does. Chuang Tzu and Solomon had each traded limited perception for vision. They both saw past the misperception that we are a mortal body that can be harmed by the experiences taking place in this world and knew that we are one with the immortal Divine.

In “Solomon’s ring,” Solomon says that the praise he gave to the Divine when he lost and found the ring did not come from the perspective of human logic or emotion, but was “on the basis of the state of my heart.” Since his heart was one with God, he said, “The heart was neither distressed at [the ring’s] loss nor overjoyed at its recovery.” He knew that his wisdom and power both issued from his oneness with the Divine not a material object, and could never be threatened by any experience in this world. As the story of Solomon’s ring concludes, we’re told, “Solomon’s ring was an outer token of inner remembrance and stability.”

There is no need to continue riding the wild swings of the pendulum of duality and misperception. We are all called to Oneness with the Divine and can experience this world in peace and tranquility as Chuang Tzu and Solomon did. Recognizing our oneness with All That Is allows us to let go of misperceptions and see with the vision of the heart; this is the beginning of fearlessness.