October 15, 2016

An Epic Quest for Truth in the Heart of Good & Evil.


“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~ Rumi

“The happiness of the drop is to die in the river.” ~ Abu Hamid al-Ghazali

“Deliverance is not for me in renunciation. I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

“Follow the light of your intuition, and keep away from the darkness of convention.” ~ Michael Bassey Johnson


The great 13th Century mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi once came across a wizened old man who was frantically searching for something in broad daylight with the help of a lantern.

Rumi felt compelled to ask about this crazy man’s dilemma. “Can I help you?” he asked him in a sympathetic tone.

“I am fed up with this pack of savage men around me. They have made my life wretched and miserable. I am totally disenchanted and heartbroken. I am in search of someone who is true to his conscience and lives by those eternal values which we all have cherished for ages,” replied the old man, his voice quavering with rage.

Rumi was not the least bit ruffled by the venerable man’s dilemma. A wizened sage with vast metaphysical powers, he tried to calm him down. “Let me tell you that your search will be in vain. It is like trying to locate a needle in a haystack. What you are searching for will never come your way. I can understand the wrench in your heart.”

Rumi was already convinced that virtuous living had become a rarity and human values had lost their sanctity. He commiserated with the poor man in his distress. Rumi’s famous verse goes like this:

Sufi, why are you standing before the door?
What are you looking for?
I am looking, my friend
For what is impossible to find:
I am looking for a man.
“Look in your own heart, for the kingdom of God is within you.”

He who truly knows himself knows God, for the heart is a mirror in which every divine quality is reflected. But just as a steel mirror when coated with rust loses its power of reflection, so does the inward spiritual sense, which the Sūfi calls the eye of the heart.

When this visual heart becomes insensitive to the celestial glory on account of the dross of the material world it no longer remains a clarified beacon. This is possible only by the blessing of God, though it demands a certain inward co-operation on the part of man.

We have a similar story in the form of the story of the Greek philosopher, Diogenes, who used to walk around in daytime carrying a lighted lantern. When asked the reason, he would say, “I am searching for an honest man.”

To avoid all material provisions, Diogenes lived in a tub. He had a wooden bowl from which to drink, but he broke that on seeing a boy drink from his cupped hands. His life, therefore, was lived with extreme simplicity, inured to want, and without shame.

It was this determination to follow his own dictates and not adhere to the conventions of society that he was given the epithet “dog,” from which the name “cynic” is derived. (As to why he was called a dog, Diogenes replied, “Because I fawn upon those who give me anything, and bark at those who give me nothing, and bite the rogues.”)

Hearing of his fame for virtue and simplicity, one day the great king, Alexander, decided to visit him. Alexander came and stood opposite him and said, “I am Alexander the great king.” “And I,” said he, “am Diogenes, the cynic.”

When someone was extolling the good fortune and splendour a person had experienced in sharing the suite of Alexander, Diogenes wryly remarked, “Not so, but rather ill fortune—for he breakfasts and dines when Alexander thinks fit.”

Alexander stood opposite him and asked, “Are you not afraid of me?” “Why, what are you,” said Diogenes, “a good thing or a bad?” Alexander replied, “A good thing.” Whereupon Diogenes said, “Who, then, is afraid of the good?”

At another time Diogenes was sunning himself when Alexander stood over him and said, “Ask of me any boon you like, and, I shall grant it.” To which he replied, “Stand out of my light.” Alexander is reported to have said, “Had I not been Alexander, I should have liked to be Diogenes.” As it turned out, both Diogenes and Alexander died on the same day in 323 BCE. Alexander was 33 and Diogenes was 90.

Diogenes was the archetype of the Cynics, a Greek philosophical sect that stressed stoic self-sufficiency and the rejection of luxury. He is credited by some with originating the Cynic way of life, but he himself acknowledges indebtedness to Antisthenes, by whose numerous writings he was probably influenced.

It was by personal example rather than any coherent system of thought that Diogenes conveyed the Cynic philosophy. His followers positioned themselves as watchdogs of morality. Diogenes is the subject of numerous apocryphal stories, one of which depicts his behaviour upon being sold into slavery.

He declared that his trade was that of governing men and was appointed tutor to his master’s sons. Tradition ascribes to him the famous search for an honest man conducted in broad daylight with a lighted lantern. Almost certainly forced into exile from Sinope with his father, he had probably already adopted his life of asceticism (Greek askesis, “training”) when he reached Athens.

Referred to by Aristotle as a familiar figure there, Diogenes began practicing extreme anti-conventionalism. He made it his mission to “deface the currency,” perhaps meaning “to put false coin out of circulation.” That is, he sought to expose the falsity of most conventional standards and beliefs and to call men back to a simple, natural life. Though Diogenes himself lived in poverty, slept in public buildings, and begged his food, he did not insist that all men should live in the same way but merely intended to show that happiness and independence were possible even under reduced circumstances.

Throughout the passage of history, we find human civilization threatened time and again by the rise of the “satanic spirit” in man which would rub off, albeit temporarily, the angelic element in him. But there were always bands of honest and selfless men whose spiritual flame kept the candle of civilization burning. They were endowed with insight and wisdom combined with a pious heart which helped them distinguish the eternal verities of life from its passing fads.

The wise Rumi gave his verdict in an age when society had still not sunk to the abysmal depths of moral decay that we witness today. The rapid erosion of human character, the degeneration of moral values and the narrowing orbit of spirituality have sapped the society of its most precious element—the moral fibre. There could be no greater tragedy for man than the thinning away of this marrow of human civilization.

Even a great scientist like Einstein has emphasized: “The moral imperative is not a matter for church and religion alone, but the most precious traditional possession of all mankind.” Fairness and honesty no longer remain beacons for man in his journey of life. Even as the warning bells continue to bleat painfully, man is no longer willing to lend his ear to the discordant notes of a ruptured civilization which is fast losing its placid serenity. He does not realize that they constantly remind him that the rhythm of life is fast growing erratic and the music has long gone out of it. We are in fact getting drowned in the drone of fascist slogans.

Matthew Arnold once said that if he merely searched his own consciousness, he would find that he had no idea of having rights, but that he only had duties. What he wanted to convey was that the idea of rights was essentially artificial, and was something that social habit had conditioned men to look for, but that the deepest moorings of man, the real foundation of his being, expressed itself in recognizing duties rather than claiming rights.

The abundance of material wealth and aridity of spiritualism have driven the human race berserk and brought it to a state of utter despair and confusion. As Goethe rightly said, “Epochs of faith are epochs of fruitfulness but epochs of unbelief, however, glittering, are barren of all permanent good.” What other force on earth, except faith, could do as much? Modern day man has all the affluence and luxuries of life, and has surrounded himself with the most sophisticated gadgets to build a world as dazzling as that of Aladdin and his genies. But loneliness and despair keep troubling his heart and gnawing his spirit.

The great psychiatrist Carl Jung makes a distinction between achievement on the one hand and culture or personality on the other. Jung warns that he who carries over to the second half of human life the philosophy of the first half, namely, achievement—all that constitutes worldly success—and makes that second half “merely pitiful appendage of life’s morning,” must pay a heavy price for doing so with damage to the soul, with diminution of personality, with inner poverty of spirit. For moneymaking, social existence, family and posterity are nothing but plain nature—not culture. Culture lies beyond the purpose of nature. And there is a human growth beyond the purposes of plain nature; this is the spiritual nature of man.

In a brilliant analysis of the anatomy of human nature, Rumi considers the human heart as an “amalgam” of both the good and bad. If the element of altruism is in more, the individual can surpass even angels in acts of kindness and benevolence. But when this element is overlaid by the dross of evil, the individual’s malevolence can put the wickedness of Satan to a shadow. Rumi captured the essence of this philosophy in his beautiful poetry:

Thou partakest of the nature of the beast
as well as the angel;
Leave the nature of the beast, that thou mayest
Surpass the angel.

Normally, the heart is “veiled,” or blackened by sin, tarnished by sensual impressions and images, pulled to and fro between reason and passion: a battlefield on which the armies of God and the Devil contend for victory. Through one gate, the heart receives immediate knowledge of God; through another, it lets in the illusions of sense. “Here a world and there a world,” says Rumi. “I am seated on the threshold.” Therefore man is potentially lower than the brutes and higher than the angels.

Angel and brute man’s wondrous leaven compose;
To these inclining, less than these he grows,
But if he means the angel, more than those.

(Less than the brutes, because they lack the knowledge that would enable them to rise; more than the angels, because they are not subject to passion and so cannot fall.)

According to Tolstoy, there are two principles that work in a person. They are the law of love and the law of aggression. The law of love is deep-seated and is present in each of us. It is possible to reach out for it in others. Equally present in man is the law of aggression.

Norman Cousins wrote: “The individual is capable of both great compassion and great indifference. He has it within his means to nourish the former and outgrow the latter. The brighter and darker sides of man are projected in sharp contrast in Hamlet: ‘What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!'”

The problem of petty and low-value human behaviour has been clearly expressed by Sri Aurobindo: “For there is in front of men a heart of vital emotion similar to the animal’s…its emotions are governed by egoistic passion, blind instinctive affections…heart besieged and given over to the lust, desires, wraths, little greed and mean pettiness of an obscure and false life-force and debased by its slavery to any and every impulse.”

Charles Darwin has made a wonderful observation in Descent of Man: “Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy that feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

Our endangered planet bears witness to the inexorable decadence in the morals of the humankind. It is a great consolation that the new generation is far more interconnected in the modern sophisticated global village. Here, the seams that separated nations have vanished. But the new generation has still to go far to plumb the depths of human wisdom and find an answer to the dichotomy of human character.

It can then weld these discordant traits into a coherent philosophy and resurrect the noble character of man. Till then, we have to keep reconciling to the devilish instincts of man that are playing havoc with the civilization. As Shakespeare laments in Measure for Measure:

Man, proud man,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep. 


Author: Moin Qazi

Image: Wikipedia

Editor: Travis May

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