Contemplation, Rumination, Introspection

We are in the Holy month of Ramadan. This is considered the most sacred period of the year in the Islamic culture,  to mark that Allah gave the first chapters of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad during this month.

Is it a happenchance that all major religions/ethnic groups have a month defined? Christians observe the month of Lent; Jains follow Paryushan; Parsis have their holy month of Bahwan; the Maharastrians have their Shrawan. Typically this is a month of introspection, of prayers, abstinence, and….gratitude. Gratitude for being alive. Gratitude for the good life you enjoy. Gratitude for your friends and family. Gratitude for all the things bestowed on us by the Almighty…by whatever name you call him.

The Arabic root of the word Ramadan/Ramzan is Ramida or ar-ramad which means scorching heat or dryness. Experiencing that, burning your negative thoughts & actions, and emerging into the joy of munificence, celebrating life and experiencing joy of both Cleansing and Community  is what Ramadan is about. It is believed that the gates of Heaven are open in Ramadan, and the gates of Hell are closed! Prayers offered in Ramadan give you the highest Thawab – spiritual rewards!!! In the final analysis, Ramadan stands for contemplation & rumination; introspection & learning; reflection; self discipline; self control; sacrifice; empathy & charity and through all this :  self purification.

A Muslim pilgrim prays at the top of Mount Noor in Mecca

Lent, Shrawan, Bahwan, Paryushan, like Ramadan are characterised by prayers and withdrawal into self: a time to take stock and balance your life’s books, if you will. A space and time for renewal and recommitment.

Ideally this sort of intense soul searching should result in much greater sense of clarity and acceptance; more trust in self and/or the powers that be;  and finally, gratitude. This triumvirate of Acceptance; Trust & Gratitude can guide our lives through the most challenging situations and circumstances. But we humans are indeed the most difficult to predict and understand.

When things are going well: we will find the roots in our efforts and convince ourselves that we deserve no less!! It is always our own actions; our karma; our purushartha that is giving results.  But as soon as the first thing happens that is not as per our desires, we find external factors to blame. In India often it is our Naseeb/Fate/”Vidhi Likhita”. Or the politicking ways of others who do not want us to succeed. Constant refrain in difficult times is always : God why me?

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There is a classic anecdote of Arthur Ashe.  The legendary Wimbledon player was dying of AIDS which he got due to infected blood he received during a heart surgery. From the world over, he received letters from his fans. One of them conveyed: “Why does God have to select you for such a bad disease?”. To this Arthur Ashe replied: The world over-50,000,000 children start playing tennis, 5,000,000 learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach the Wimbledon, 4 to semi finals, 2 to finals. When I was the one holding the cup, I never asked god “Why me?”.  And today in pain, I should not be asking GOD “why me?

Curious indeed are the ways of the Allah! Unto each life some rain must fall, as a saying goes. We all know the well reported case of Anant Ambani’s weight loss. Earlier whenever we saw the over bloated Anant on the cricket ground with his svelte mother our hearts bled for the Ambani family. We pitied Mukesh Ambani despite all his riches; looking to the overweight human balloon. His 108 kg weight reduction may have set the balance. But think of Sridevi. Despite all those Botox injections and trying to look younger than her debutante daughter, her untimely and unnatural end made her a matter of  abject pity. It is said that “God tests his true soldiers” but what a debonair Shashi Tharoor  or the once powerful Indrayani & Peter Mukherjea couple are going through makes the question “Why me?” look legitimate.

To me, all these cases prove another truism: all bills must be settled in this life, before you go yonder. Great riches gotten through questionable means; great power wrested by a hungry soul – all will have costs attached. And unlike Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey we do not get an external picture to sully: the gashes and wounds go directly to our souls and bodies; besides creating challenges for our families. e.g. those who knowingly smoke and drink will pay for their indulgence in other ways. What you do in this life catches up with you here and now.

That is where these Holy Months come in giving us a chance to review the life hitherto lived. It is never too late to make amends and go back to the Right Path. The concept of Jainism is a powerful one here: the Paryushan ends with a wish ” Micchami Dukkhadam” : which is shorthand for saying ” if I have hurt you or harmed you by my actions or thoughts in any manner: forgive me.” Introspect and repent and make amends,  for Christ will be born again heralding hope and peace in the time to come. The main message of all introspection and self learning is positive: accept; trust and move forward in gratitude.

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Arun Shourie whom we have all known so well for his public life as a brilliant economist, Editor, author, Minister shared a very moving personal story of his son who  suffers from cerebral palsy. Dealing with his son and now aged wife who are both totally dependent on external support Arun’s advice is that we must “learn to love till it hurts” . Calling himself the “servant -in-chief” to both of them, he quotes the Dalai Lama ” If you want to be truly selfish, help someone.” To this line Arun adds his own twist : “If you want to be truly selfish, help someone – who cannot do anything in return for you!!”.

What better advice can come to us in the holy month of Ramadan: accept others for what they are, trust all, love till it hurts, give till it hurts; and be grateful for all that you have, and be doubly grateful that you are in a position to share your fortune and give to others: as you have received!!

Ramadan Kareem : shukar guzar vikas