Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One of my efforts to become Lateef

The book I am currently reading “The Zahir” by Paulo Cohelo is teaching me some more of what I have a little idea about. It is adding - of knowledge, some more about Ishq e Haqiqi and Latafat.

Latafat to me as I have described in my earlier post is “being light spirited” in a way that allows you to think freely/creatively/with an open mind.

To pursue latafat I have decided to start another blog called “chasing after wit” and so to develop this “light spirited-ness”.

Writing a blog makes one very focused. You have to rewrite the draft so that it improves...you have to think along the pattern of the blog and you are always on the lookout for ideas that can go on the blog. So naturally writing a blog dedicated to wit is the best way I think of developing my wit and to improve to some degree my state of latafat.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lust for life or Passion for life?

Everybody is teaching you how to be happy in one way or another...that seems to be the lesson most people care about, whether it be Reader's Digest or the religious mystics. The editorial team, the researchers, the scholars, some are happy themselves some are not...

I keep trying to learn rules and principles which will keep me happy; rules that can always be replaced for better ones...another such rule that I think will help in my journey to ITHACA to fight the Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,the angry Poseidonis (click on here to read about my post on ITHACA), this, a lesson I have picked up: the realisation that people who want to grow like me can go about it in two ways. These I describe as:
1) a traveller with the lust for life; and
2) a traveller with the passion for life.

These two I have described below:

In the lust for life you push yourself headlong into anything that will make you grow and move up at the high cost of hurting yourself and hurting others. You may hurt yourself in a way you can't completely justify to yourself. The main character in the book Zahir by Paulo Coelho starts off like this. A man who is a rebel and does many things such as fall in love with women while being married because i would assume each love teaches him something new/is another high. Another set of examples is that of people in the corporate world who stand on somebody else to move up - using politics negatively, to grow.

In the passion for life you keep pushing yourself to grow, keep pushing yourself as far as you can but this growth requires that you negate yourself. You still feel pain, but this pain you can "completely justify" to yourself and you therefore don't feel the hurt despite the pain. You grow stronger, wakeup more empowered the next day, the next moment. And in all this you definitely don't hurt others, you improve them along the way! Ghandi sounds like such a character. An easier example for us to relate to is probably of that student who works hard in his studies - staying up nights when required; a teacher who goes the extra mile to make sure he communicates what he knows to his students; an investigator who follows up on all possible leads until by process of elimination he finds what he is looking for or a citizen who stands up for his rights against many difficult odds.

How many of us are in fact obsessed with this journey? I know many are content. And among those obsessed with the journey how few are those that don't lust after it?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

About a Sufi

While there is no precise definition of a ‘Sufi’ the description of one is of a person who is ‘pure’. By being pure it is meant that the sufi rids from himself his impurities that have been a part of him owing to his being human.

This is a journey to perfection. God has gifted humankind with a very powerful gift: “knowledge” and using this gift you rid yourself of impurities. I have written about this in my post: “Why Ego is bad” and also in my post: “How to achieve the ultimate goal”.

While on this journey your “shaoor” (urdu) improves, i.e. you come closer to enlightenment. By this I mean you understand reality better and you come closer to the “ultimate reality”.

The Quran it is said is a book of wisdom – a book that has said many things in parables. And by wisdom is meant “truth of the ultimate reality”. Wisdom it is because knowledge is derived from it. All knowledge is derived from wisdom which I have already described. And this knowledge is the key to becoming ‘pure’ or closer to the ultimate reality i.e. closer to God.

A sufi while on his journey tries to develop “Ishq e Haqiqi”. I will give you a better description of this then that I have given in my earlier post: Ishq e Haqiqi has two components (breaking it down linguistically): “Ishq” and “Haqiqat”.

Ishq is the highest point that you have felt with somebody or something. For example the highest point that you have felt with your mother is Ishq. The highest point you have felt with a friend, or even with God that is Ishq. Laila and Majnu/ Romeo and Juliet, the highest point of their love was Ishq.

Haqiqi comes from Haqiqat which means reality and it is one of the most radical concepts in Islam.

And so Ishq e Haqiqi is “Ishq of haqiqat” and that is what a sufi develops as he uses knowledge to free himself of the troubles in his everyday life, by working on himself and improving himself, thus empowering himself.

By doing this he also experiences freedom. A very good quote about freedom by Daniel J. Boorstin is: “Freedom means the opportunity to be what we never thought we would be.”

Now so people say that to get to Ishq e Haqiqi (the superior kind of love) you have to have Ishq e Mijazi (which you would have with your partner for example). They say this figuratively but the point they want to communicate is very important: You have to be “Lateef” in order to develop Ishq e Haqiqi.

“Lateef” , the best description I have for this is: “being light spirited”. A person with the “soul of a woman” is lateef. That’s why I think women generally are more Lateef, although they can be very crass too if they don’t have the security that comes from knowledge.

And to me “latafat” is the spirit of/one of the sources within man of knowledge. If you are lateef you will be able to think freely!

An excellent poem by CONSTANTINE CAVAFY (1863–1933) translated by Rae Dalven tells us about this journey:


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon—do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your heart does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How love works

In an excellent lecture on the MIT Open course ware site I learnt about how love works. This helped remove some of the misconceptions I had and explains the process in an intuitively appealing manner.

Lesson 1: There is no psychopathalogical method to fall in love

By a psychopathalogical method I mean: we do not fall in love because we are mad as is commonly proposed in literature and by poets such as (it would appear) Ghalib. There is an infatuation which is possible along those lines but love cannot derive solely from this experience. The reason why is answered in the last lesson.

Lesson 2: People don’t fall in love because of a certain ‘chemistry’

Indiana Jones is an excellent example of what would be proposed by the proponents of the chemical theory of love. They would say: two people work together and suddenly realize they are in love; it’s the chemistry that is actually at work that brings this about. This is also not true.

Lesson 3: How it works

There is a theory called the social exchange theory. It works on the following three rules:
1)One is attracted to those individuals with whom you have a positive social balance upon interaction.
2)You choose among a wide variety of individuals having positive balance those that give you the “most” positive balance “within” the time/opportunity you have available
3)A relationship is based on reciprocacity.

To elaborate on “positive social balance, upon interaction” would be to say that when one interacts with somebody there are some positives that you get out of the interaction and some negatives. These positives/negatives can be quite complex, but at the end of the day the ‘net balance’ is what counts.

So you meet those people, across any gender and walk of life who give you a positive balance on meeting them. Further with limited time you ‘economize’ and meet those people with whom you have the best time with.

Finally all relationships that are long term have to be reciprocal. So it’s not only person A pursing person B, but for it to work out person B has to want to pursue person A as well.

And on the basis of these three simple rules you make friends, decide who you want to meet and even fall in love.

That said one is always improving and getting better. That would mean you can keep making better friends and even up your chances of meeting a better partner.

So suppose you want to find a very good potential partner, what do you have to do to get that person to love you?

The answer is that if that person really is better then he/she will fall in love with you and you with her. What you would have to do is to ‘improve yourself' in all dimensions, whether that be in terms of financial security, social skills, social influence, charisma, self-control, physical health, or a number of other factors. So you work on yourself and you get the target.

This reminds me of a few beautiful rules explained by the movie revolver that I have written about earlier:
1)The smarter the opponent;
2)The smarter the game;
3)The smarter you get.

In fact Ghalib has also talked about this when he criticizes ‘Farhad’. Farhad fell in love with a Persian princesses ‘Shireen’ and to win her love he went forth to dig a stream of water through the mountains. Ghalib says to Farhad: “Love is not won by hitting your head against a stone”! But by working on yourself.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How to achieve the ultimate goal

The measure of value of a person is directly proportional to the measure in which he holds the following qualities:
1.Pre-disposition to think critically
3.Self control

With these qualities every man can achieve his goal weather he be a philosopher, businessman, Sufi or even a school going student.

Critical thinking has the following components:
1.Rules of logic
2.Socratic Method: adoption and comfort level with it – the heart of critical thinking
3.Values: accepting every idea after putting it through an: “intellectual due process”, however difficult that may be either socially or against one’s preferences
4.An upside-down worldview: awareness that many things in the real world work differently from how they first appear

It develops by acquiring knowledge of science and thus understanding the body of knowledge experimentally proved by scientists ,whether this be natural sciences or the social sciences. It also requires lateral thinking in order re-pattern, previously held beliefs and notions about how the world works, and align it with how it really works.

The method required is that of “deep thinking through asking questions i.e. the Socratic Method”.

A beautiful way to develop self-control: an "abstract" exercise is given by the following pillars of Islam:
1. Praying five times a day with regularity and conviction
2. Fasting in the month of Ramzan for a period of approximatly 30 days
3. Hajj pilgrimage
4. Giving of Zakat, which is money given to the deserving out of one's earnings

Note that the reason lust is bad is because it requires one's emotional capital and time and takes away from one his "self-control". Ego, melodrama and a number of other things are bad for the same reason.

With the above three qualities present one can achieve any goal and so one must try to develop these three qualities.

The ultimate goal as i understand it is happiness.

While improving these qualities the freedom one is gifted with is beautifully captured by the following shair of Amjad Siraj:

Bohot din aseeree mein bhee reh liya mein
Hua chahta hoon bass ab khud sae bahar

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why Ego is bad

I met a person some time back to whom I had gone to advice regarding a career in a bank, he worked in a bank and was about to join the CSS service – the bureaucracy in Pakistan. In the conversation I had with him he mentioned I should take advice from my parents in the matter to which I told him that such an effort would be pointless because banking was an alien domain for my parents.

In the course of events I said that he wasn’t getting it and that we should move on. On his persistence I finally told him: “what the hell is the issue here…my parents won’t be able to help!”.

At this he said: “You don’t know what I can do to you, you should not talk that way to me.” In an intellectual explanation of his statement: his rationale, he said: “You don’t know how much ego I have, you can’t even imagine. It is much more than you can ever have”.

Now that statement caught me and I thought to myself: “how in the hell can ego be a good thing. It is the one thing I have always known is bad, strange guy indeed!”

A couple of years later I heard of a book, one that is so common that some of the people you know will have heard of it too. The name of the book is: “Fountainhead” and the motto of it is: “Man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress”.

Now this was a bigger shocker. Not only was that guy thinking on these lines but a very large part of the reading human world since 1943 –when the book was published – has been reading it. In fact on further reflection I realized that I was thinking on these lines as well, when for example in school in the spirit of competition I wanted to come first and the reason was simply that it was Me we were talking about. How could I not come first?

Now there is a counter argument that many religions including Islam produce. This is of “understanding reality as it is” and doing this by doing things like praying and fasting and other exercises that help you negate yourself with the goal being of bringing yourself in control.

How polar these two ideas are and what I present below is the conclusion in favour of the latter:

Ego while having utility in that it helps motivate a person also in the process “burns” him and is actually not necessary at all and is as unnecessary as melodrama is in our everyday lives. We don’t need that melodrama and we don’t need the ego all that we need to do is to think things through and execute them.

A very powerful example given in the Quran is of God giving two big lessons to man kind at the creation of human kind:
Lesson 1: Adam was the supreme of all creation because of his “knowledge”
Lesson 2: The devil was made the most inferior of all creation because of his “ego”

Knowledge is not dependent on ego but you might be dependent on it if you do not use knowledge to free yourself.

Is he liyae "unparh" log har waqt phadae mein par-ae rehtae hein because un kae liyae har cheez anaa ka masla ban jatee hae.

And herein is the shair of Iqbal when he said: “khud he ko kar buland itna kae har taqdeer sae pehlae khuda tujh sae khud poochae kae teree raza kya hae”. The boland that he was talking about is through knowledge and control of the will not through ego and the fuelling of it.