Tag Archives: Peace

Happiness & Wellbeing: An Act of Contemplation

By Musa Askari

Delivered at “Happiness & Wellbeing Conference” Birmingham, UK. 16th June 2018.

I would like to begin with one of the happiest moments in my life, nearly a quarter century ago. It was in 1995, in the city of Hyderabad, India. Syed Hasan Askari, my late father-teacher, delivered his speech on Spiritual Humanism, an alternative to secularism and religious fundamentalism, charting his life journey as a pioneer of inter-religious dialogue and the pursuit for the revival of the classical discourse on soul.

From that speech I share his words as follows:

“Each one of us sitting now in this hall shares without qualification a principle. Irrespective of age, race, gender, culture, language or religion. And that principle is so obvious and self-evident that we don’t even look at it. When you don’t look at it you become unconscious of it but philosophers start with the obvious…..The principle which all of us share without qualification, without exception is that of “Life”. Just reflect on the word Life!”

Hasan Askari continues:

“The first definition of life according to Aristotle is that all life somehow involves voluntary movement however undeveloped or developed. As soon as you raise your hand, such an ordinary taken for granted image, you have given testimony to voluntary Life. This voluntary life is not the characteristic of any material principle. It should come from a non-material source. In other words it should have a meta-physical origin. That is the first proof that all of us have a soul which is both one and many at the same time.”

“You meet someone on the pavement passing by you, you meet someone in the corridor you look at him he looks at you; both are Soul-Beings.” 

“First Jesus, then later the Prophet of Islam and much earlier Buddha in India. These three taught us how to greet one another. When you say Salam, when you say Peace, when you say Namaste one soul greets the other soul. You are paying tribute to your mutual recognition as the miracle of self- conscious organic thinking Life.”

It was an honour to have been there with him at that time.

The voluntary act of greeting another for me is an occasion of happiness. In its essence, when uttered with sincerity, what else could it be but happiness to consider the well-being of one’s neighbour.

For me the idea of a “neighbour” is also spiritual. One of the interpretations to “love thy neighbour” may be understood to love that other who bears no resemblance to one’s collective identity of nationality, language or religion. Equally on the inner plane, on a deeply personal level, there is a “neighbour” who in principle also is free of such identifications.

From my article, Weapons without Boundaries: A Spiritual Humanism Response to Terrorism: 

“It is a neighbour we take for granted. 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. It has remained our constant companion even when we did not give it due recognition in ourselves and in our neighbour. 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, each day, each night it is Life that is our nearest and dearest. Our true next of kin. A kinship that bonds us to each and every human being. A wondrous kinship that breathes through all divisions, through all diversity. It is the unity that binds us to each other. It is the Life of Humanity.”

This “kinship” being our spiritual trans-national connection.

Spiritually for me gratitude for “Life” itself is a state of happiness. A gift. Being grateful innerly, in the act of prayer, in the act of remembrance of God, in everyday life for “Life” itself is tremendously moving.

I have found it generates a state of well-being independent of physical wellbeing. And depending upon the degree to which one is grateful it can help us transcend and overcome the difficulties of life. The experience of wellbeing, coming out of a sense of gratitude, despite moments in my outer life of great strain and heartache, has never abandoned me. It remains available irrespective of outer circumstances that are either favourable or otherwise.

Ingratitude for Life for me is one of the sources of unhappiness.

Hasan Askari reflects in his book “Alone to Alone” that,
Gratitude is faith. It is the cornerstone. It is the bridge. Without gratitude there is no strength in patience and no pleasure in remembering. Gratitude is for both material and spiritual gifts, but there is another far higher gratitude, gratitude to the Supreme who is all possessing and yet, what is in reality His, He calls it ours.

The Quran reminds the reciter:

“And unto everyone who is conscious of God, He always grants a way out of unhappiness, and provides for him in a manner beyond all expectation, and for everyone who places his trust in God, He alone is enough.”

One of the most deeply moving examples of gratitude, trust and patience we find in the words of Imam Hussain, son of Imam Ali b Abi Talib from whom sufi traditions draw their spirituality. Imam Hussain being the grandson of the Prophet of Islam.

Anyone who knows the story of Hussain and what transpired cannot help but be moved. Despite the intervening thirteen hundred years the power of the story of Hussain continues to resonate.

Thirteen hundred year ago on the tenth day of the month of Muharram, on the plains of Karbala, Iraq, the cavalry advances to Imam Hussain’s camp wherein are his family and companions.

Imam Hussain calls upon God:

“O Allah, it is You in whom I trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. You are my trust and provision in everything that happens to me, no matter how much the heart may seem to weaken in it, trickery may seem to diminish my hope in it, and the enemy may seem to rejoice in it. It comes upon me through You and when I complain to You of it, it is because of my desire for You, You alone. You have comforted me in everything and have revealed its significance to me. You are the Master of all Grace, the Possessor of all goodness and the Ultimate Resort of all desire.” (The Book of Guidance, al-Mufid) 

Here I would like to draw attention to the words of Plotinus (mystic-philosopher) who writes about the Soul of the Proficient:

“As for violent personal sufferings, he will carry them off as well he can; if they overpass his endurance they will carry him off. And so in all his pain he asks no pity: there is always the radiance in the inner soul of the man, untroubled like the light in a lantern when fierce gusts beat about it in a wild turmoil of wind and tempest.”

From the revelatory to the religious. From the mystical to the philosophical qualities of gratitude, trust and patience carry great significance. Thereby, providing multiple sources to help awaken within us such qualities.

Is it not so occasions which are outwardly and innerly so painful are also important sources of comfort and inspiration throughout our lives? As in world history so to in our personal history.

Perhaps by the very fact of living through them, of surviving as it were, carries within it the remedy.

Therefore, on a personal note I would like to take you back to another an occasion in my life for which I remain eternally grateful. An occasion that has become a high water mark in my spiritual life. It remains a constant source of thankfulness and support to me. The occasion was deeply sad. I was honoured to have been there at the end.

It was in the early morning of 19th February 2008, around 7am. I was holding the hand of my late father. He was passing away. I thanked him deeply. I told him do not be afraid, do not worry, kissed his hand and wished him farewell.

I am utterly indebted to him for all that he offered me and showed me.

It is due to the course of his spiritual life I am able to be with you here today. It was the least I could do to be there with him as he breathed his last.

The following day we buried him. I thanked him again for everything. I knocked three times upon his coffin and tearfully spoke to him bearing witness and testifying that he had lived a great life. I said it was a Life worthwhile. I testify as such again today about a mystic who was my teacher and friend. Some considered him a Sufi.

In his 1984 interview on mysticism Karen Armstrong asks Hasan Askari, “Can anyone become a mystic and have a mystical experience?”

Hasan Askari responds, “Every man, every woman is potentially a mystic. It is more a matter of moving from a state of sleep to a state of awakening.”

Hasan Askari continues, “I made a simple discovery some twenty years ago in India that my religion was one among many. And then my journey began and now I feel at home in a Church or a Synagogue or a Mosque… a man of God should feel at home wherever one is. I should also say a man of God is never alone. The invisible Companion, the invisible Friend is always there.”

I come now to what I consider to be the heart of the mystical life.
For the Mystic, for the Sufi, Love of the “Beloved” is the irresistible undercurrent to the Act of Contemplation upon the Oneness of God, and the Act of Remembrance of God.

It is in recalling the kindness of my father that I am drawn inevitably to perhaps the most important aspect of spirituality. Namely, Love. The font of happiness and wellbeing.

My seven thoughts on Love are that it is a Constant, Non-Material, A Remembering, A Returning Home, Forsaking of Love (paradoxically), It is Pure, It is Beautiful.

It is a “constant” in that it is never failing and all embracing, crossing all categories of identification and limit.

It is “non-material”. I do not consider it a physical thing to be found in one place to the absence of it in another place. It is available to all at one and the same time despite differences in expression. It is One Love.

Leading to my third thought, one cannot speak of Love without “Remembering” one’s Being as non-material also, namely Soul. Love is an insignia and spark within the Soul which is pure “Longing”.

It is love within the Soul that compels it to yearn for and remember its Source. It is a “returning home”. A fullness of Being.

As the Qur’an reminds, “We are of God and unto God we return”.

Love is also to perhaps “forsake love”. To give it up at the final stage of Soul’s journey. After much wandering and longing, love has brought Soul from shore to shore, over still and raging oceans realising there can be no duality. “Do not say two. Say One!” recalling my teacher’s words. To return the soul as it was given, “empty” of all projections.

Remembering the Quran, “Wheresoever one looks, one sees the Face of one’s Glorious and Majestic Lord.”

It is in giving up the image we turn to the Original where Love is complete, simple, a Unity of all unities. Leading to my sixth thought, love is “pure”. After such purification of the soul there is only one thing to do. Be humble with bowed head, to wait in patience for the “Beloved” to arrive.

At that threshold one does not enter by one’s will for personal will was left far behind in the earlier stages of the journey. One is invited to enter at the behest of the Beloved – to be “in” Love.

Here, in that state of patience, the summit of zikr (remembrance) takes place in the soul. To rise one’s zikr to this station and let patience continually envelop one’s being.

And for that invitation, for that recognition, one would wait an eternity if one had to. For there is no other to turn to.

One may be wondering why I have not referred to Beauty. Ah, but what to speak of Beauty at this stage. All is Beautiful. And that is my seventh thought; “Beauty” itself.

It drew me from the First and draws me to the Last.

Plotinus, the mystic philosopher, father of Neo-Platonism, writes powerfully about the state of a Proficient Soul:

“Once the man is a Sage, the means of happiness, the way to good, are within, for nothing is good that lies outside him.…. Adverse fortune does not shake his felicity: the life so founded is stable ever.”

With such a vision, with love considered with Soul, one can engage with the world, with family, relationships, friends, neighbours, “strangers” (in truth there are no strangers to the Soul), seeing that behind all such relationships is the same Love, one-many. “In Love” there is no such thing as the “other”.

All are One. Then one may say with utmost sincerity;

“Your soul and my soul are one Soul. Your God and my God is One God.” (Hasan Askari).

How to start this quest? How to re-orientate one’s identity so to speak? Can one seek happiness within and without collective identities?

This is I how I have answered these questions to myself:

• I prefer to hold on to any identity lightly rather than tightly. It informs my thinking but is not essentially who I am.
• Spiritually, I cling to such identities lightly with the hope that eventually I may let go of them and what remains is the undivided individual sitting patiently at that threshold.

And finally, for the avoidance of doubt. I am saying we are “more than” our outer identities of nationality, culture, race, ethnicity and religion to name but a few. For me the peak of that “more than” aspect is that we are a Soul. Immaterial, invisible, indivisible, immortal. The same Soul before birth, in life and after death.

However, for those to whom this aspect (Soul) many seem problematic I make the following appeal. Let us consider the possibility that we are at least something “more than” the sum of collective identities, even if we, for the moment, leave it unnamed.

So that in meeting one another as human beings, as travellers, seekers, peace makers and spiritual-humanists on the path we may be drawn to learn about the other before us, abolishing otherness, by transcending outward identities. It is possible.

That to me holds tremendous promise and hope. That to me is “encounter”. That to me is the foothills of Transcendence.

Fellow Contributors to Happiness & Wellbeing Conference: 

(1) Emerita Professor Linda Gask (University of Manchester) “Why I’m happy to be sad”. (2) Professor Richard King (University of Kent) “From Buddhist meditation to modern secular therapy: an analysis of mindfulness in ancient and modern contexts. (3) Dr Sharada Sugirtharajah (University of Birmingham) “Understanding happiness and wellbeing: a Hindu perspective. (4) Dr David McLoughlin (Newman University) “Jesus charter of happiness”. (5) Mr Vishal Soni (Light Hall Academy, Solihull) The science of happiness: a personal journey through chronic illness. You can watch Vishal’s speech here (6) Emerita Professor Paula McGee (Birmingham City University) Happiness and health.

 

 

 

“Do not say two, Say ONE!” by Musa Askari

“Do not say two, Say One!”: These were the words my late father and teacher Syed Hasan Askari uttered to me in a fading voice a few days before his passing from this life in Feb’2008.

“Do not say two, Say ONE!”

The One

From where does peace descend? From what hidden depths of Light does Angel Tallsakina rise? Indirectly it comes, gently, unexpected. A bird approaching with caution to an open palm. Companion of Attar.

Awake! Awake! For if not now when? Awake! Awake! If hope for the “hereafter” why not here and now? Soul then and now, here and there, One Soul. Do not abandon this world.

Awake! Awake! For there is no then and now. No here or hereafter after body’s mode. Awake! Awake! We have slept a half sleep long enough through this life. Awake! Awake! O Soul.

Let us meet and speak facing one another with eyes closed. Speaking from and to our inner realities. Through our outer appearances of speech, name, histories, collective identities. Let us see to our indivisible, invisible, immaterial centre of Being. Our Soul. One Soul.

From that station known each other thus let us utter, “Peace be upon you”. What else is there to say? Is it not so we already know each other? Our source is One. Our return as soul to the One.

“Do not say two, Say One!”The One is above peace, it envelopes peace.

“Do not say two, Say One!”It is “That” to which peace looks before it knows itself as peace and is filled with peace.

“Do not say two, Say One!” First the “Word” – “Let there be Light!”

“Do not say two, Say One!” As like that advancing light before dawn.

“Do not say two, Say One!” Then, there is “Light!”. Blinding “Light!”

“Do not say two, Say One!” Fortunate it was we met with eyes closed.

“Do not say two, Say One!” O Soul had it not been so I fear we may have missed seeing one another in this life.

O Baba, O Baba, I hear you still, “Do not say two, Say One!”

(please see also “O Lights of Lights”)

Spiritual Human Interview with Clare Short

Clare_election[1] - CopyClare Short formerly MP UK Parliament 1983 until 2010 and Secretary of State for International Development 1997 until 2003 when she resigned from the Gov’t over the Iraq war. Clare Short’s areas work include “slum upgrading in the developing world, transparency in oil, gas and mining, African-led humanitarian action, destitute asylum-seekers in Birmingham, Trade Justice for the developing world and for a just settlement of the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict.”

Sincere thanks to Clare Short for agreeing to this interview. 

Musa Askari: ROLE OF WOMEN. The following quote is by my late father Prof Syed Hasan Askari about the Indian Sufi mystic        Nizamuddin Auliya, “I used to hear, amidst all that poverty when we had nothing in our house, not even a loaf of bread, my mother saying to me: “Baba Nizamuddin! Wake up! We are guests on this day in the House of God!”. And she used to glow with joy, and her hands were warm while she lifted me and held me in her arms. It was my mother who initiated me upon the path of trust and joy, who liberated me once for all from the slavery to the seasons and the conditions of this world”

The example of Nizamuddin speaks of a beautiful bond with his mother. We hear too little about such bonds situated in conditions of poverty. Their stories at risk of being lost behind a statistical narrative which can dwarf issues of the heart. I would be grateful if you could share your thoughts on what more needs to be done to support women in the poorest parts of the world and why this is so important in helping people out of poverty?

Clare Short: Kofi Annan said some years ago poverty has the face of a woman and her children. The evidence on how best to generate development in society is very clear, educating girls is the most powerful force for development. No one is of course advocating excluding boys from school but in poor countries girls tend to be kept at home to help with household tasks. Girls who have been to school marry later, have fewer children who are more likely to survive and are better at accessing healthcare and increasing the family income. So a commitment to universal primary education, including girls as a first step to full educational opportunities for all is the most important force for beneficial change. This is why it was one of the leading Millennium Development Goals. Of course we should never just do one thing to promote development but the key role that girls and women play is exemplified by this reality.

Musa Askari: GLOBAL NEIGHBOURHOOD. Through various forms of international aid it is possible for people of moral conscience to help improve the welfare of one’s “neighbour”, local to international. As humanity we are each other’s neighbour and this category of “neighbourhood” for me is one of the common grounds where secular and sacred traditions of the world can meet working together for the common good. To what extent in your view have the Millennium Development Goals helped to raise the level of awareness about a “global neighbourhood”? What further needs to be done to foster this sense of universality?

Clare Short: In the ​years of hope at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s when the Berlin Wall came down and Nelson Mandela was released from prison, there was a real growth in support for a more just and evenly developed world where all people could live with hope and dignity. And when, at the UN, they started to look for an appropriate way of marking the new millennium, all the countries of the world came together to agree that the systematic reduction of poverty across the world should be the cause that united humanity. ​I​n these years spending on defence and security declined considerably. Then, after September 11, 2001, the obsession with security and military spending overtook the idea of a better safer world of equal development. There is no doubt that the attack on the Twin Towers was very serious crime they killed 3000 people. But the response was irrational. It does not make sense to spend as much on the military as at the height of the Cold War to try to capture a man in a cave in Afghanistan and to persuade people that his ideas are ugly and wrong. President Eisenhower, who was a Second World War general and a ​R​epublican President warned that the American people in his retiring presidential address to beware the military industrial complex. My view is that the military industrial complex faced a set back at the end of the Cold War and used the attack on the Twin Towers to take over again and is reducing the world to a dangerous state and marginalising ​the​ commitment to a world that is safe because all have the chance of a decent and dignified life. This major shift to a massive emphasis on military solutions and the generation of hate and fear has not wiped out the work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and there has been significant progress across the world. Currently negotiations are being finalised to replace the MDGs, which expire this year, with new Sustainable Development Goals. So​ the battle is not lost and the effort must continue but the stress on military ​​solutions has been a major setback.

Musa Askari: RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY. On affirming religious diversity Muslim inter-faith dialogue pioneer Prof Syed Hasan Askari writes, “I have always looked at religious diversity with a sense of wonder..I was mystified by the fact of diversity itself..I clearly realised that transcendental reality could not be equated with any one religious form..The prospect of a religion reflecting the Absolute absolutely would turn that religion into the most dogmatic and oppressive belief system imaginable..To enter into dialogue is to celebrate the splendour of the infinitely Supremely Good, in the unity and diversity of our faiths. By the theological affirmation of religious diversity, our coming together in dialogue becomes akin to an act of worship; our exclusive witness is transformed into co-witness; our one-way mission is replaced by mutual mission.”

How is the affirmation of global religious diversity reflected in the Millennium and Sustainable development goals please? Should there be a specific goal attributed to affirming religious diversity not only as a sociological fact but also to help foster inter-faith spirituality and dialogue?

Clare Short: There is no commitment to religious diversity​ in either the MDGs or the proposed SDGs but respect for the human rights of each person obviously means respect for their religious sensibilities. And the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, which is supported, at least in theory, by almost all countries in the world declares that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”​ There were a big group of British theologians who declared back in the 1980s ​that ​all the world’s major religions are equally valuable routes to God. Unfortunately in these times religious labels are getting mixed up with the sense of identity and reflect little of the goodness of the best of religious teaching in all the main religions. Terrible things are being done in the name of religion. There are ugly currents of fanaticism in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam. We need to reflect on why this is happening.

Musa Askari: JUSTICE & FAIRNESS. In your recent lecture “Does international Aid work?” you talk about,

“How to make the world safe & sustainable for everybody? A more just & fair world where everyone has a fair chance is also a safer world for everybody.” What do you see as the major obstacles to justice and fairness and what kind of change in thinking needs to take place in your view to begin to overcome the challenges?

Clare Short: I think that international leadership is in a terrible state​ and is making the world more dangerous and unhappy. There is of course need sometimes to use military force to contain and reverse the misuse of violence, in fact I think it is necessary to enlarged the authority of UN peacekeeping missions in for example eastern Congo so that everyone knows that the writ of the UN will be enforced and justice will prevail. But if peace is to come to the Middle East then the international Community must uphold International law in relation to all the countries of the region. Israel is in grave breach of international law according to the judgement of the International Court of Justice and yet nothing is done. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and Egypt are in gross breach of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights and ye​t​ they are treated ​as​ great friends of the west​. ​I am afraid that the days have a long gone when are just settlements for Israel/Palestine would transform the atmosphere in the Middle East but it would start to make a significant difference. In relation to Russia, I believe that expanding NATO up to Russia’s borders and suggesting that Ukraine should join NATO and the EU was provocative and would have enraged any Russian leader. This does not mean that Russian aggression should be ignored but it just compromise should be sought rather than a continuing drive to invent a new cold war.

Musa Askari: VISION. In 1995, on a visit to India, Prof Askari delivered a speech on Spiritual Humanism Democracy has become a political convenience. The great socialist dream has been eroded by the rise of multi-national empires. The uncertainty of world economic markets has made the working classes across the world almost brought to the brink of misery in the third world countries where millions of people do not know what awaits them within ten, twenty years. There is a slow but firm rise of religious, ethno-centric racist ideologies. In Eastern Europe, in the collapsing Soviet Union, in Asia, in Africa and in India as well. In other words the vast human system, its centre is empty. When the centre becomes empty then all sorts of emotive fascist ideologies rush in to fill; to occupy that centre. The hour is crucial. Humanity has to make a serious decision.”

Would you agree we need a new visionary approach, a revival of hope that takes into account the concerns raised above by Prof Askari? Do you see any opportunities please for an alternative narrative to positively address such concerns from either the left or right of the current political landscape?

Clare Short: Yes see my arguments above. The only way to make the world safe is to give up the idea that one country should dominate – what the neoconservatives in the US see as America’s unipolar moment. This is dangerous with a rising China. We need to learn the lessons of the First World War (which was really the cause of the Second World War) where a rising Germany and a declining Ottoman empire was so badly managed that the world ended up in a dreadful conflagration. We need to reinforce the UN by updating the membership of the Security Council and streamlining and making more efficient the UN development agencies. All must agree to abide by international law with no double standards and we must renew our commitment to International Development and make sure that we meet the objective outlined in the draft Sustainable Development Goals that extreme poverty is eliminated from the world by 2030.

Spiritual Humanism

 

 

 

 

“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

Gayatri used in Hindu daily worship

Gayatri (Sanskrit) Meditative chant/mantra used in the daily worship of Hindus.

Bhur bhuvah svah / tat savitur varenyam / bhargo devasya dhimahi / dhiyo yo nah pracodayat / santih santih santih

Body of all. Mind of all. Spirit of all / May we meditate on the Supreme / On the all-pervading radiance of the Primal Light / May He inspire the innnermost thoughts of our hearts / Peace, Peace, Peace.