I don’t know how many times I have begun a Blog post declaring my distrust of people who are overtly religions. I suppose this is because I find most religions and their overpowering, inflexible sermons too constricting for my worldview. It is strange, however, that in a span of a few weeks, I have quoted scripture, and now I am writing about fasting during Ramadan. I guess these reflections on religion are an indication of my trying to delve deeper into forces that control so many people’s lives.
I become disillusioned when I see the world, which Christians, Muslims and Jews have created. There is so much hypocrisy, lust for power, and injustice in their teachings, that I often find myself unable to understand how billions of people could be so passive in following tenets that feel so unnatural and inhuman to me.
As my own spiritually matures, however, I am hoping that by looking closer, passed the rigid dogma that maybe I will find a foundation of these religions, which will help me make sense of what I have always thought to be the most destructive force to infect mankind.
Both my grandmothers were Muslim. I was born in Iran and currently live in Malaysia- both Muslim countries. But until the United States declared a war on Muslims, I had been very critical of Mohammad’s creed. I credited the mullahs and other fundamentalists for ruining my country of birth and forcing my family and I into exile. I viewed many Muslim teachings as constrictive and backwards. But since 9/11, I have often found myself defending Muslims from prejudices cast upon them by the West. Listening to Bush’s, you’re with us or against us speeches, have made it easy for me. I knew right from the start that I am against him. As a result of his divisive world order, I have adopted a much more tolerant view of Islam.
Furthermore, as my Zen practice progresses, I am learning to search for the aspects in all religions that reinforce the Buddha’s teachings. You see I don’t view Buddhism as a religion. I see it as a teaching that helps us better understand reality. Buddhism is not different that other religions, it is all the religions examined mindfully. Buddhism allows us to search for truth and find trust not in scripture and sermons, but in the love and kindness that I hope exists somewhere in the other religions. So while Bush expounds a warped 1984 war is peace version of Christianity, I will simply focus on Jesus’ teachings that align perfectly with what the Buddha said thousands of years earlier. Love. Be kind. Help the other beings before you help yourself. Pretty simple.
Wow! That was quite the intro to get me here. I have decided to fast for Ramadan this year. I recently read Gandhi’s autobiography, and although I found the text tedious and slow, I was intrigued by his experiments with diet and fasting. He claimed that we could better and more deeply explore our consciousness when our body is denied full access to our senses. This is a big step for me because I have, up to this point in my life, lived my life practicing the exact opposite. I have indulged every urge, taken every drug, drank everything available, eaten whatever was in front of me, but the decade long binging did not take me here I wanted to go.
Hunter S. Thompson was once asked if he would recommend drugs and alcohol, and he replied, “They have worked for me.” Ironically he shot himself in the face, so they couldn’t have worked too well. But the reason I bring up his quote is because for a long time I agreed. They worked for me too. Up to a point. Pushing all the limits and looking for wisdom through excess taught me a lot about the limits of my consciousness. But since I have quit drinking, I am realizing that I was looking in the wrong direction. I didn’t need to find what was beyond reality; I needed to look close at reality itself. It is this inward search that has led me to this month’s fast.
I want to free myself of my attachments to even more of my urges. Thich Nhat Hanh says in his book, Creating True Peace, “We seek distractions by feeding our senses.” I have been trained my entire life to be a consumer. American culture becomes overpowering when we are aware of its effect on our lives. Confucius one said, “If you know what is enough, then you will have enough. But if you wait until you have enough, you will never have enough.” But as Americans we are trained to simply consume, everything around us. Nothing is ever enough.
I am using this fast to retrain myself to be in better control of my desires. The very act of not having a sip of water when I crave one is proving to be quite the enlightening experience. This is the first day and it has been nine hours since I last ate, but I can already feel the pull of my desires. I am hungry and thirsty, but not unbearably so. The difficult part is simply not snacking when I feel the need. I am realizing that food is another distraction for me. It feels the same as when I quit smoking. I have to question why it is that I want to eat at whatever moment I may be hungry. Some may argue that, denying your body’s biological needs is not a wise move, but I see this fast as more of a metaphorical act. It is not the fact that I am not eating a piece of melon when I crave one; it is simply acknowledging that I have full control over my consumption. I am in control of my reality. I am not allowing my urges and desires control my reality. This is a very empowering sensation. I have tried the path of excess, now it is time to try the other path.
Like I said, this is only the first day, so stay tuned to see how I progress or digress as the month passes. But to go back to the beginning of this post, I am also doing this to get a better understanding if Islam and its connection to my own beliefs. Here is a brief description of Ramadan from Wikipedia:
The most prominent event of this month is the fasting practiced by all observant Muslims. Eating, drinking and smoking are not allowed between dawn (fajr), and sunset (maghrib). During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from sexual intercourse (during fasting), violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, angry and sarcastic retorts, and gossip. People are meant to try to get along with each other better than they normally might. All obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided. Purity of both thought and action is important. The fast is an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. Fasting serves many purposes. While they are hungry and thirsty, Muslims are reminded of the suffering of the poor. Fasting is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind. And in this most sacred month, fasting helps Muslims feel the peace that comes from spiritual devotion as well as kinship with fellow believers.
When removed from its normally fundamental and oppressive shadow, the words of Islam seem worthwhile. I have altered the language a bit to align them better with my own beliefs, but the basic ideas are the same.
All beings are expected to put more effort in refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, angry and sarcastic retorts, and gossip. All beings are meant to try to get along with each other better than they normally might. Purity of both thought and action is important. The fast is an exacting act of deep personal worship in which people seek a raised level of closeness to their personal reality. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. Fasting serves many purposes. While we are hungry and thirsty, all beings are reminded of the suffering of the poor. Fasting is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind. And in this most sacred month, fasting helps all beings feel the peace that comes from spiritual devotion as well as kinship with fellow believers.
It is still early but I am very much looking forward to seeing what cleansing my soul will look like and more importantly what it will feel like.