Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Visualisation of the Big Bang

I had this piece sitting on my ‘to-publish’ list for a couple of weeks now. It was created by a friend of mine, to be written into a 30m long brass spiral, which is the main feature of the floor for a ritual space she has created at her and her partner’s home. The spiral is kind of a walk along the unfolding of our universe according to the cosmological views of a range of scientists, authors and poets, including mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme, evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris and cultural historian, geologian and planetary guardian Thomas Berry.



the present moment

Be the moment. Meditation is real life, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains in this excerpt from a mail by John Croft to the Gaia Foundation:

John Malkin: In meditation practice, it is very common for us to feel that our minds are very busy and that we’re not meditating very well. What do you have to say about this?

Thich Nhat Hanh: Meditation is a matter of enjoyment. When you are offered a cup of tea, you have an opportunity to be happy. Drink your tea in such a way that you are truly present. Otherwise, how can you enjoy your tea? Or you are offered an orange—there must be a way to eat your orange that can bring you freedom and happiness. You can train yourself to eat an orange properly, so that happiness and freedom are possible. If you come to a mindfulness retreat, you will be offered that kind of practice so that you can be free and happy while eating your orange or drinking your tea or out walking.

It is possible for you to enjoy every step that you make. These steps will be healing and refreshing, bringing you more freedom. If you have a friend who is well-trained in the practice of walking, you will be supported by his or her practice. The practice can be done every moment. And not for the future, but for the present moment. If the present moment is good, then the future will be good because it’s made only of the present. Suppose you are capable of making every step free and joyful. Then wherever you walk, it is the pure land of the Buddha. The pure land of the Buddha is not a matter of the future.

John Malkin hosts a weekly radio program on Free Radio Santa Cruz, focusing on social change and spiritual growth.

[Image: Flickr, Tara Studio]

Sufi devotees in Lahore

Some believe that Pakistan’s mystic, non-violent Islam can be used as a defence against extremism (Photos: Kamil Dayan Khan)

By Barbara Plett
BBC News, Lahore

It’s one o’clock in the morning and the night is pounding with hypnotic rhythms, the air thick with the smoke of incense, laced with dope.

I’m squeezed into a corner of the upper courtyard at the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal in Lahore, famous for its Thursday night drumming sessions.

It’s packed with young men, smoking, swaying to the music, and working themselves into a state of ecstasy.

This isn’t how most Westerners imagine Pakistan, which has a reputation as a hotspot for Islamist extremism.

Devotional singing

But this popular form of Sufi Islam is far more widespread than the Taleban’s version. It’s a potent brew of mysticism, folklore and a dose of hedonism.

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Inside the Sufi drumming session at the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal

Now some in the West have begun asking whether Pakistan’s Sufism could be mobilised to counter militant Islamist ideology and influence.

Lahore would be the place to start: it’s a city rich in Sufi tradition.

At the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri, musicians and singers from across the country also gather weekly, to perform qawwali, or Islamic devotional singing.

Qawwali is seen as a key part of the journey to the divine, what Sufis call the continual remembrance of God.

“When you listen to other music, you will listen for a short time, but the qawwali goes straight inside,” says Ali Raza, a fourth generation Sufi singer.

“Even if you can’t understand the wording, you can feel the magic of the qawwali, this is spiritual music which directly touches your soul and mind as well.”

But Sufism is more than music. At a house in an affluent suburb of Lahore a group of women gathers weekly to practise the Sufi disciplines of chanting and meditation, meant to clear the mind and open the heart to God.

One by one the devotees recount how the sessions have helped them deal with problems and achieve greater peace and happiness. This more orthodox Sufism isn’t as widespread as the popular variety, but both are seen as native to South Asia.

‘Love and harmony’

“Islam came to this part of the world through Sufism,” says Ayeda Naqvi, a teacher of Islamic mysticism who’s taking part in the chanting.

“It was Sufis who came and spread the religious message of love and harmony and beauty, there were no swords, it was very different from the sharp edged Islam of the Middle East.

“And you can’t separate it from our culture, it’s in our music, it’s in our folklore, it’s in our architecture. We are a Sufi country, and yet there’s a struggle in Pakistan right now for the soul of Islam.”

Sufi drummer

Sufism is a mixture of music, chanting and meditation

That struggle is between Sufism and hard-line Wahhabism, the strict form of Sunni Islam followed by members of the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

It has gained ground in the tribal north-west, encouraged initially in the 1980s by the US and Saudi Arabia to help recruit Islamist warriors to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

But it’s alien to Pakistan’s Sufi heartland in the Punjab and Sindh provinces, says Sardar Aseff Ali, a cabinet minister and a Sufi.

“Wahhabism is a tribal form of Islam coming from the desert sands of Saudi Arabia,” he says. “This may be very attractive to the tribes in the frontier, but it will never find resonance in the established societies of Pakistan.”

So could Pakistan’s mystic, non-violent Islam be used as a defence against extremism?

An American think tank, the Rand Corporation, has advocated this, suggesting support for Sufism as an “open, intellectual interpretation of Islam”.

There is ample proof that Sufism remains a living tradition.

In the warren of Lahore’s back streets, a shrine is being built to a modern saint, Hafiz Iqbal, and his mentor, a mystic called Baba Hassan Din. They attract followers from all classes and walks of life.


The architect is Kamil Khan Mumtaz. He describes in loving detail his traditional construction techniques and the spiritual principles they symbolise.

Sufi gathering in Lahore

Huge crowds are attracted to Sufi gatherings

He shakes his head at stories of lovely old mosques and shrines pulled down and replaced by structures of concrete and glass at the orders of austere mullahs, and he’s horrified at atrocities committed in the name of religion by militant Islamists.

But he doubts that Sufism can be marshalled to resist Wahhabi radicalism, a phenomenon that he insists has political, not religious, roots.

“The American think tanks should think again,” he says. “What you see [in Islamic extremism] is a response to what has happened in the modern world.

“There is a frustration, an anger, a rage against invaders, occupiers. Muslims ask themselves, what happened?

“We once ruled the world and now we’re enslaved. This is a power struggle, it is the oppressed who want to become the oppressors, this has nothing to do with Islam, and least of all to do with Sufism.”

Sufi food distribution

Sufi people are often actively engaged in social welfare programmes

Ayeda Naqvi, on the other hand, believes Sufism could play a political role to strengthen a tolerant Islamic identity in Pakistan. But she warns of the dangers of Western support.

“I think if it’s done it has to be done very quietly because a lot of people here are allergic to the West interfering,” she says.

“So even if it’s something good they’re doing, they need to be discreet because you don’t want Sufism to be labelled as a movement which is being pushed by the West to drown out the real puritanical Islam.”

Back at the Shah Jamal shrine I couldn’t feel further from puritanical Islam. The frenzied passion around me suggests that Pakistan’s Sufi shrines won’t be taken over by the Taleban any time soon.

But whether Sufism can be used to actively resist the spread of extremist Islam, or even whether it should be, is another question.

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What it means to present

Posted: February 27, 2009 in reflections
Tags: ,

Spiritual teachers and sages throughout the ages have always talked about true knowing as being one with all existence and experiencing that oneness through being present in the moment through full awareness. Brian Swimme in this video clip looks at the same phenomena from an astrophysicist’s and cosmologist’s point of view: if there was a Big Bang, then we all are one with everything because we all and everything are composed of the same particles and energy that existed at the smallest imaginary moment of the beginning of the Big Bang and therefore do so now in the universe. This sameness is still unfolding, at least in the dimensions of time and space, and in stillness we can observe this unfolding process as well as the underlying sameness. And people like Jack Kornfield takes the quality of this observation process a step further by saying that the awareness in the moment of being totally present and love are the same, which makes presence being love.

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I just subscribed to the digital edition of the Orion Magazine, and opening the November/December issue, I felt quite touched by this part the editors’ foreword, reflecting on our alienation from nature and especially our perception of what is real and true.

In 2004, an unnamed Bush administration aide famously derided New York Times writer Ron Suskind for languishing “in what we call the reality based community”. “We’re an empire now,” the aide went on to declare, “and when we act, we create our own reality.”

The world has suffered the consequences of that hubris for the past eight years, and the social and economic accounting of the damage and missed opportunities will go on for years to come. But soon – not long after this issue of Orion is published – the television networks will declare the winner of the U.S. presidential election and then, with great portent, their commentators will begin to decree what the new reality, defined by the election and their interpretation of it, means.

Meanwhile, in a quiet corner of Olympic National Park, rain will fall onto the lichen-covered trees of that teeming ecosystem. A beaver will reinforce its lodge on Lake Umbagog in northern New England in preparation for the oncoming winter. And uncounted Americans will gaze into the star-filled skies and reflect upon the order of the cosmos.

Which of these realities is more real? The voices coming from the television? Or the trees and beavers and stars, and the rhythms that have carried them through history? Which matters more?

It this neither newsworthy nor particularly insightful to observe that Americans live in an Orwellian world where language is twisted, culture is co-opted, and many of us, to put it bluntly are duped – duped in part by the unremitting Potemkin world of television and radio, newspapers and magazines, blogs and websites. But the reality of the natural world and the intelligence manifest in it – the world that lies behind the falsefront constructions thrown up by political posturing, greed-driven economics, and self-centered gratification – is a profound truth. Beyond being the source of our sustenance and a wellspring of inspiration, the natural world today serves a new function: it is a baseline of honesty at a time when we desperately need honesty.

The video by the leading complex systems scientist Stuart Kauffman proposes that the universe is being continuously creative, and that none of the tools of science have an effective way of studying it. It’s quite a long lecture with him just talking, without any jazzy Powerpoint presentation. Nevertheless, it’s a very profound talk. In it he stakes a very solid claim, stating that science can’t understand the world if doesn’t it recognise  that many systems are built by accumulative local design rather some generalisable grand scheme – which is the way biological evolution builds living things.

After having been harassed for 10 weeks by my o’seas family members 😉 to upload my holiday photos onto Flickr, I’ve finally started with the first batch on Italy and the first installment on Germany. That kept me away from blogging, but in the meantime my bellissimo friend Jeanie *) emailed this poem, which is remarkable because it was written by the father of one of the victims of the London bombings in 2005. And it is remarkable because it doesn’t join the usual chorus of hatred against ‘the other side’ but instead, as a expression of true humanness and deep connectedness to all life, appeals for forgiveness.

No Room for Hate.

There is no room within my heart
for revenge, fire or hate
there is no room within my mind
for any thoughts like these.

I cannot find the words to say
just how it is I feel
but I know from deepest hurt
I must forgiveness find.

The hurt that’s been done to us
cuts sore like a knife,
but we must not, repay in kind
what has been done to us.

Instead we must try and find
the way that is so hard,
and reach out our loving hands
to find some friendship now.

There can be no more healing thing
than opening wide our eyes
and seeing that most other folk
are really just like us.

David wrote this poem a year after his step daughter was killed in the London Bombings of 2005.

By David Gould

November 2006