31 July 2013

Fast in these fast times


We live in troubled times.  We live in times where text is interpreted or rather misinterpreted to feed our prejudices.  In this exercise not only is preferred text quoted out of context and selectively, but those texts belonging to other faiths are also picked for purposes of convenience, again out of context and selectively. 

For reasons defensible and not there is a tendency to focus on difference and claim not just uniqueness but superiority, moral or otherwise.  There’s politics in all this.  And all that has little to do with doctrine, but rather the politicization of faith, religious politics if you will.  They all feed on each other, paradoxically. 
But doctrines, for all the sanctioning and forbidden they contain or in interpretation are said to contain, are invitation for exploration as well.  A Sri Lankan doesn’t become a Ugandan the moment he or she steps in to Kampala.  Having a McDonald’s meal with a Coke doesn’t turn a Mozambican into an American (of the US).  Things come with names, but name or nameless, tags and wrapping are less important than the article.  Walk into a bookstore. Walk out.  You didn’t own the bookstore before you stepped in and you don’t own if when you step out.  The bookstore never owned you either.

There are lessons in every book, even the badly written ones. Gems don’t shine on the earth’s surface.  The best stories don’t make the New York Times Bestseller’s list.  Take out the organized, institutionalized and politicized elements of any religious equation, and you are left with ‘way of being’, in the very least, with of course deep, complex and illuminating insights. 
There are many lessons in the Sermon on the Mount and they can be learned and internalized by non-Christians as well as Christians without anyone having to abandon or question their faith.  Even a cursory reading of the Singalovada Sutta, one of the most quoted Buddhist texts for peaceful and wholesome lay life, or a glance at the notions of upadana (attachment), can be of immense use to non-Buddhists. You can retain your faith in a Creator God or some supernatural, omnipotent entity even as you incorporate relevant lessons from these notions into your ways of being.  

There are no shortcuts to understanding doctrine.   Doctrine aside, a little bit of effort in understanding others cannot harm. 
What is being recommended is not walking in another’s shoes for seven leagues before passing judgment (although that’s not such a bad idea) but perhaps a few steps.  What is advocated is not fasting throughout the month of Ramadan (sans the rituals or let’s say religious customs), but a single day’s fast; a very basic exercise from dawn to dusk.  Not to understand Islam (which of course has to be an exercise that requires far more curiosity and commitment) but to inhabit at least in part the dawn-to-dusk hours of a fellow citizen of a different faith.  It will not necessarily turn Buddhist, Hindu or Christian into a Muslim. It will certainly not be a violation of the fundamental doctrinal tenets of the particular faith, just as it cannot be (to my understanding) haram to read the Sermon on the Mount or practice metta, karuna, muditha and upekkha. 

In the very least, though, it will open doors into different existences and who knows, even open eyes to oneself, one’s prejudices and most importantly that which is of true worth in one’s faith. 
Let us fast.  It may lead to a (slow, sure) recognition of oneself in another’s skin, and the other in one’s eyes.  

 
Reactions:

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes , let us fast. And collectively we can gain the experience .We can feel the 'hunger' in poor.We can slow down our feelings.We all ca be 'one' for a moment.

Anonymous said...

Yes, let us fast.We can gain the experience.We can feel the 'hunger' in poor. We can slow down our feelings, our thoughts. We can be 'one' for a moment.

ramli said...

Profound

Shaik Anwar Ahamath said...

What you have to bear in mind is that no religion is 100% accurate. Until the tenets and doctrines were written down, they were transmitted by word of mouth, like the game of Chinese Whispers, and we all know how of its degree of reliability. My own religion, Islam, was written down in the Koran hundreds of years after the death of the messengers. The inaccuracies in the interpretations are further exacerbated as they were written in archaic Arabic and translated by perhaps biased men, hence the gross inequalities visited upon Muslim women, despite the fact that Prophet Muhammad's wife was allegedly far more liberated and supposedly a business magnate - qualities denied to the modern Muslim women. The skewed Shariah Laws and the sad fate of Rizana Nafeek beheaded in Saudi Arabia in January is a distasteful reminder of it.

Arjuna Seneviratne said...

Excellently stated. There is no substitute for practice.

indika jayakody said...

There’s a hidden sweetness
in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.
If the sound box is stuffed
full of anything, no music.
If the brain and the belly
are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song
comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and a new
energy makes you run up the
steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like
reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with
the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink,
Satan sits where your
spirit should, an ugly metal
statue in place of the Kaaba.
When you fast, good habits gather
like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring.
Don’t give it to some illusion
and lose your power.
But even if you’ve lost all
will and control, they come
back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out
of the ground, pennants
flying above them.
A table descends to your
tent, Jesus’s table.
Expect to see it, when you
fast, this table spread with
other food better than the
broth of cabbages.
-Rumi

indika jayakody said...

There’s a hidden sweetness
in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.
If the sound box is stuffed
full of anything, no music.
If the brain and the belly
are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song
comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and a new
energy makes you run up the
steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like
reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with
the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink,
Satan sits where your
spirit should, an ugly metal
statue in place of the Kaaba.
When you fast, good habits gather
like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring.
Don’t give it to some illusion
and lose your power.
But even if you’ve lost all
will and control, they come
back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out
of the ground, pennants
flying above them.
A table descends to your
tent, Jesus’s table.
Expect to see it, when you
fast, this table spread with
other food better than the
broth of cabbages.......Rumi