30 October, 2009

Blindsight: Yoga and Islam

Sunday Indian, 1st November, 2009

Rajaque Rahman, a devout Muslim, is a former journalist now engaged in teaching yoga-based spiritual programmes, as part of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar 's Art of Living Foundation. To him, both - Yoga and Islam - have common goals…

Recent fatwas forbidding Muslims from doing yoga have left many confused about what Islam really says about it. Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council and Indonesian Ulema Council’s edicts on the ground that yoga will erode their faith in the religion reflect a complete ignorance about the discipline of yoga.

As the Quran and Hadith have nothing specific that deign the practice of yoga haram, the ulemas based the ruling on their own concocted fear of supposedly ‘Hindu’ elements of yoga destroying the faith of a Muslim. The best way to allay their fear is to look at the Hindu philosophy on yoga and see how and where it contradicts the tenets of Islam.

Yoga simply means uniting with the self. Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras starts by calling itself an enunciation in union. The asanas, the practice of which is the focal point of these fatwas, are just one way of attaining that union. Is striving for such a union with the self against Islam? It cannot be. For, Prophet Muhammad has said, “He who knows his own self knows his Lord.” So anything done in pursuit of knowing the Lord will count as a meritorious act of following the Prophet. So yoga as a spiritual pursuit is very much permissible in Islam.

The best explanation of why yoga is not just permissible, but also desirable for Muslims is to be found in the second sutra of the Yoga Sutras. Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah. It means yoga is stopping all the modulations of the mind. Ceasing all the outward activities of the mind and reposing in Allah is the ultimate goal of Islam. Prophet Muhammad said, “I have a time with God to which even Gabriel, who is pure spirit, is not admitted.” Hence, the soul of prayer is a complete absorption, a state without room for any outward thoughts which is also the ultimate purpose of yoga. So doing yoga asanas as a means of attaining a thoughtless state will qualify as the highest form of ibadat (prayer).

This leaves only one ground for orthodox mullahs to frown at yoga: that yoga stems from polytheist beliefs of Hinduism. But when yoga means union, how can it be linked to polytheist beliefs? In fact, yoga takes one away from polytheism and leads to Advaita, which is in perfect agreement with the Islamic doctrine of tauhid (oneness of God).

It’s universally proven that yoga brings peace of mind, and on that count yoga is almost obligatory for Muslims. For the Quran says, “The only religion with Allah is Islam.” As Islam means peace, peace of mind is a prerequisite for one to be truly following Allah’s only religion.

Outweighing all these synergies of yoga is the discomfort among Muslims in chanting certain sounds, particularly Om which generally forms a part of yoga. This uneasiness is caused again by lack of knowledge about what Om signifies and why it’s chanted. Contrary to the general misconception, Om isn’t a name of a God or a prayer to a particular God. Om is a universal sound that is chanted for its effect in harmonising one’s being and creating peace within and without. The vibration the sound creates has the power to take one to that state of complete absorption which Prophet Muhammad mentioned as his time with God. That’s why Om and other similar sacred sounds such as Aameen and Amen are normally chanted at the time of supplicating before God. Hindus chant Om before praying for peace, Muslims and Christians chant Aameen and Amen respectively after seeking blessings from God. This proves that the accent is on the resulting state of harmony which helps one connect with God easily.

So doing yoga with the sole intention of attaining a thoughtless state so that one can connect with Allah wouldn’t make one a bad Muslim.

Polytheism in the name of Allah

Chairman of National Fatwa Council of Malaysia, Abdul Shukor Husin, while passing a fatwa against yoga last year stated, “Many Muslims fail to understand that yoga’s ultimate aim is to be one with a God of a different religion. When one has affirmed to ‘La Ilaaha Illallaah’, how can a Muslim think of another “God of a different religion?"

‘La Ilaaha Illallaah’ (literal translation: ‘there is no god but God’) establishes beyond argument that there is only one God. If a Muslim thinks there are different Gods for different religions, he is negating the essence of Islam and unwittingly subscribing to polytheist beliefs. However, differently we may pray and by whatever name we may call, it goes to that one source. Further, the Quran clearly states that God can be invoked in different names. “Invoke God, or invoke the Most Gracious by whichever name you invoke Him. He is always the One, for His are all the attributes of perfection [Al Isra 17:110]. Another verse [Al Hashr 59:22] proves that God is beyond even the 99 names mentioned in the Quran. “Glory be to God, beyond any associations. He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Form. To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names.” This means that God can be addressed by anything that’s uttered in reverence and with a sense of beauty.

The time has come for religious leaders to go to the basics of tauhid and reinterpret it to present the real essence of Islam to the world. Such a correction will go a long way in stopping many atrocities against humanity committed in the name of cleansing the world of infidels.

03 October, 2009

How Quattrocchi walked free

Indian Express, 1st October, 2009

The manner in which investigations and prosecutions in the Bofors case were consistently and spectacularly bungled is proof enough that whoever took the Bofors money is supremely powerful.

Over the last two decades, there was always someone in the CBI, the courts, the law ministry who was batting for the accused rather than the government. Somehow, Ottavio Quattrocchi always managed to be a step ahead of our law enforcement agencies. And despite the sound and fury in the media and in the Parliament, the suave Italian businessman has ended up laughing all the way to the bank.

Quattrocchi's final triumph came on Tuesday when the Solicitor General announced that the Indian government planned to withdraw all cases against him. Quattrocchi has been let off even though many legal experts considered his involvement in the Bofors scam to be an open and shut case. Not because of the investigative skills of our CBI but because the Swedish government, the Swiss courts and investigative journalist Chitra Subramaniam had provided a wealth of documentary evidence against him. In how many corruption cases can you actually succeed in finding out the number and name of the owner of the bank account into which the money was paid? All this evidence was sufficient for Interpol and the Swiss and British courts, but not the Indian authorities.

Here is a brief run-down of the cover-up:

Though the scam came to light in 1987, no FIR was registered as long as Rajiv Gandhi's government was in power. The FIR was registered only in 1990 during the Janata Dal regime and a letter rogatory sent to Swiss and Swedish authorities.

In November 1990 during the Congress-supported Chandrashekhar government, the CBI moved court to quash the FIR on the ground that it did not disclose any offence.

In 1993, then foreign minister Madhav Sinh Solanki wrote an aide memoir to the Swiss authorities urging that the case be closed and no documents sent to India. Solanki had to resign following the leak of the memoir.

In 1993, the Swiss authorities confirmed Quattrocchi's name as the beneficiary of the kickbacks from Bofors, but the CBI did not seize his passport immediately. Instead it waited 72 hours by which time Quattrocchi had fled India.

The Delhi High Court held that the Swiss documents were not properly authenticated, on the ground that they were not original documents but photocopies. The court took the curious position that because of this no offence against the accused could not be made out. During Manmohan Singh's first tenure, the law ministry advised the CBI not to appeal against the court's erroneous order.

In 2004, the Delhi High Court held in another judgment that no allegations could be proved against public servants accused in the case. The High Court came to this conclusion without a trial. The law ministry once again advised the CBI not to appeal in the Supreme Court.

In 2006, the law ministry secretly dispatched an officer to UK to inform the Crown Prosecution that no case was made out against Quattrocchi and the two erroneous High Court orders were cited to establish this. The law ministry's move was to facilitate Quattrocchi to defreeze his bank accounts and withdraw the alleged Bofors bribe money. By the time the news leaked and the Supreme Court ordered that efforts be made to re-freeze Quattrocchi's bank accounts, the Rs 23 crore in bank account had been spirited away.

In 2007, Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina because of an Interpol Red Corner Notice pending against him. The CBI flew to Argentina, brandishing the judgments of the High Court, which the government had declined to appeal against, to facilitate his release from prison. Incidentally, the automatic appeal was also withdrawn by the law ministry, without even the token formality of consulting the CBI.

The Bofors story has been popping up in the media at regular intervals for over 20 years. The rights and wrongs of the case are lost on the new generation, some of whom were born after the Swedish Radio first broke the story back in April 1987. With the matter dragging on endlessly, indignation over bribery in the Bofors purchase has somewhat eroded. One defence put forward is that during Kargil conflict it was established that the Bofors gun at any rate was first class. Others try to deflect the issue by pointing out that the total amount of the bribes, Rs 64 crore, was chicken feed by today's standards of corruption. Some even argue, falsely, that more money was in fact probably spent on investigations in the case. A few of those who have been at the forefront in pressing the Bofors corruption charges, such as V P Singh and Ram Jethmalani, did a volte face when it suited their political interests.

The Bofors case illustrates that Indian democracy has yet to mature to the level where the law is blind and applies in the same manner to one and all. In India those in high places know how to work the system to their advantage, even if it takes more than two decades to complete the process.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar @ Mother Teresa

Could Indian spirituality have helped Mother Teresa?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Hindustan Times

Mother Teresa has done unparalleled service to India. Could she also have benefited from theunparalleled spiritual wealth of India? Yes, definitely!

Although Mother Teresa lived in this ancient land of rich spiritual heritage, she stayed away from Indian spirituality and remained an island unto herself. It is not uncommon for spiritual seekers to lose sight of what is happening inside them when they get involved in serving others.

Whether many so-called religious people are really on the spiritual path itself is questionable. They neither acknowledge nor recognise the conflicts and agony that one faces on the spiritual path. Mother Teresa has been so sincere and honest to herself that she expressed what she was experiencing. On the spiritual path, what is most important is to be honest with yourself and recognise what is happening within you.

Serving others uplifts one's energy, but it does not alleviate one from the inner torment. For that, one has to understand the mechanics of consciousness and their relation with pleasure or pain. This knowledge is found in many Indian scriptures such as the Upanishads, Yoga Vashistha, Ashtavakra Geeta and Tripura Rahasya.

The knowledge of Vedanta could have helped Mother Teresa get over her doubts and quench her intense seeking. All the states described in her letters are mentioned in the nine obstacles to yoga enunciated by Maharshi Patanjali.

Mother Teresa would have benefited immensely from Maharshi's enunciations on how to face the obstacles of Vyadhi (ill-health), Styana (procrastination), Samshaya (doubt), Pramada (carelessness), Aalasya (laziness), Avirati (craving), Bhranti-darshana (confusion), Alabdha Bhumikatva (lack of any spiritual attainment) and Anavasthitva (emptiness or agonising state of mind).

Mother Teresa seemed to have gone through the agony of these states of consciousness without the knowledge of spiritual science. This is akin to a person suffering from malaria, not knowing what medicines to take.

What Mother Teresa experienced is not different from what many saints from different religions, including Sri Ram, went through. Sri Ram found his guidance from Maharshi Vashishtha in the form of Yoga Vashishta. In the scriptures it is said that only one who is well versed in some practice of samadhi can help one to overcome spiritual torment and misery.

When orthodox beliefs limit us from looking beyond, it becomes an impediment on our spiritual journey.

One on the spiritual path should have an open mind and, at the same time, honour orthodoxy. Spirituality beyond the boundaries of a religion can help one to cope with loneliness, isolation and emptiness. It need not be seen as a betrayal of one's own religion or philosophy.

Spiritual practices like yoga and meditation do not in any way conflict with one's religious beliefs. Take the example of Father Bede Griffith who came to India and studied yoga and Vedanta philosophy in Trichy. These teachings helped him to overcome obstacles on the spiritual path while remaining true to his faith as a devout Christian monk.

Being orthodox, Mother Teresa perhaps thought she would be betraying Jesus if she searched for answers to her dilemma in Indian spirituality. A seeker has to keep the goal in front and if there is a block on the path, he or she has to find an alternative route to the goal.

When we see God as an object of perception, that is when we are totally lost and misery follows. From the scene to the seer, from the object of perception to the perceiver... that shift of consciousness makes all the difference on the spiritual journey. This is how the real joy, which is the nature of consciousness, gets kindled. And all the barriers, mental blocks and intellectual inhibitions that our understanding imposes can be transcended by experiencing the precepts of Vedanta.

It is unfortunate that people are not open in their thinking. I am sure that just a few sessions of pranayama and meditation would have helped Mother Teresa to overcome those days of darkness and inner torment. Thousands of seekers on the spiritual path experience this state, but they overcome it once they practise dhyana.

The Indian philosophy talks of three types of misery - physical, mental and spiritual. Spiritual torment is the worst. The agony and torment that one experiences is at the level of the mind and to go beyond the mind, go beyond thoughts, is the very purpose of samadhi. Mind is the cause of both bondage and liberation. Unless one knows how to quieten the mind, it is impossible to achieve inner peace.

The mind can be transcended through yoga sadhana. Yoga is not asanas alone; pranayama and meditation are an integral part of it. Patanjali Yoga Darshan, Adi Shankara's Drig Drishya Viveka, Vigyan Bhairav Tantra of Kashmir Shaivism, Thirumandiram of Saint Thirumula all offer different techniques that help one overcome spiritual torment and misery.

Ayurveda, yoga and Vedanta respectively are the three remedies to eliminate mala (impurities in the body) vikshepa (disturbances in mind) and avarna (veil that covers the light within). While ayurveda helps people to calm their thoughts, pranayama and meditation help one become happy from the core of their Being.

Happiness is only a sign of connection with the divinity deep within. Through these Vedantic practices, you can experience the scintillating consciousness that you are. It is a simple recognition of what is and has always been in us, and with us, as our self.

The basic principle of Vedanta is that what you are seeking is already there, like the air around you. You don't have to go somewhere searching; you only need to become aware. In the same way divinity, or the consciousness, bliss, love, is already present in you; it is only a matter of recognising it.

Scientific temper and Vedantic knowledge together make one whole and bring inner stillness. And that is the essence of Indian spirituality. Critics often ask what use is spirituality if the underprivileged are not taken care of. What they fail to see is that wherever there is genuine spirituality, a component of seva or service has always been attached to it. And this can be seen through the length and breadth of this country.

In the realm of consciousness, as you sow so shall you reap. If you think suffering is an important tool for uniting with God, then you are bound to attract it. If you sow a seed of suffering, that multiplies. The lack of experience of dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (equanimity) can keep a seeker morose and dull. To overcome this, one needs a shift in understanding about heaven and hell, and about the consciousness that is all pervading. Spirituality alone can bring that shift.

In the Eastern philosophy, experience comes first and then faith follows. In the occidental way of thinking, belief comes first and then experience. Mother Teresa had faith but was struggling for an experience. And it was experience which turned atheist Vivekananda into a swami. Ironically, Kolkata witnessed both in the same century!

01 October, 2009

The Truth behind 26/11 - Mumbai

Mumbai attack: Terrorists spoke Marathi Read story

"I am sure there were more than three terrorists in the Taj - we ourselves saw quite a few" - Erika Mann, Member of European Parliament Read story

"Sixteen persons are wanted in the terror attack" - Hasan Gafoor, Commissioner of Police Read story

"They were very, very familiar to the area" - Ex-NSG chief Read story

"Local LeT cells guided 26/11 attackers" - BBC Read story

"Over 40 terrorists involved in Mumbai attacks" - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Art of Living Founder Watch video

"26/11 could not have happened sans local support" - slain NSG commando’s father Read story

26/11 hero Karkare's wife slams state govt, alleges cover-up Read story

Aurangzeb 's Farman: Demolition of Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Exhibit No. 11: Demolition of the temple of Viswanath (Banaras). August 1669 A.D.

It was reported that, “according to the Emperor’s command, his officers had demolished the temple of Viswanath at Kashi”. (Maasiri-i-Alamgiri, 88)

Source: Aurangzeb, as he was according to Mughal Records