September 24, 2006

Ramadan

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.

7 comments:

  1. bz- you have to do what you think is right of course. i see no value in the tenets of organized religion. spirituality comes from within and cannot be taught. belief in oneself and loved ones is a start. organized religion was started as a control the masses type deal and because people in the ancient times did not have the knowledge to know what makes up our world.

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  2. Jabiz,
    I wish you strength and patience in your fasts. This is day two for me, and it's going remarkably better than yesterday. This is the month that always gives me a much needed reminder, a month-long jolt, if you will, of what is truly important. For the first few days, food and drink is always on my mind, but when I get past that and focus that craving into meditation and prayer, it's almost as though I am reaching a euphoric state. It makes me feel more alive to know that my body can endure so much more than I give it credit for, and that my mind and soul are cleansed by thoughts beyond just me and mine. I believe that this month is not just a time for me to readjust myself back onto the path from where I have strayed, but it is a chance for me to concentrate more on helping others, giving to charity, practicing patience, and renewing and reaffirming my faith. While I agree that religion was created to control a society, I believe that if one really educates oneself on the religion, one would find that 1) organized religions are more similar than not, and 2) if it's followed as it was truly meant to be, and not as it has been corrupted by those seeking power, it is a beautiful thing - something that can help one feel some sense of peace inside. Perhaps that is just because this is my view, and I know that there are so many others out there. There is a verse from the Quran which I feel is really helpful for me - translated it states:
    "I do not believe what you believe and you do not believe what I believe. I will not believe what you believe and you will not believe what I believe. Therefore, you have your belief and I will have mine."
    This verse has been a guide for me on many occasions when religious discussions have come up. I have my faith and others have theirs, and that's the way it is, so who am I to judge? As long as neither party infringes on the other's right to faith, it's all good.
    Regardless, I am encouraged by your exploration into self and belief and wish you success.
    Zahra

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  3. Hey Betmo,

    I am making this clarification because I really respect your opinion, and because I feel that you misunderstood both the intention of this post and the feat behind it. While I agree with that the politicization of the world’s religions have led to a subservient populace, I do think there is value in examining what each teaches us as individuals. How can we expect others to be open minded and progressive if we simply shut out religion because of our own biases? Please keep in mind that these words are totally new to me as well. So new in fact that I can’t believe I am saying them.

    I guess I am starting to learn not to be so confrontational, because if peace is my true goal that I must foster understanding. Anyway, this whole idea of the fast is a much more personal thing. I thought my painstakingly long intro explained that I am not really doing this because of any devotion to Islam, but rather as a way to reexamine myself and my connection to the world.

    bz

    also,I think that Zaraha made some beautiful comments.

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  4. How about a slightly different view? If billions of people in the world are willingly a part of some sort of organized religion, can we not say that there has to be some truth in what is being taught? Some goodness that directs and guides people to live better, happier, and love everyone? Yes, many people go because they are told to. Yes, equally as many go because it's socially acceptable. But there are those of us who make up a significant portion who go to be uplifted.

    Today at church we had a 40-minute lesson on the scripture to become like little children. We talked about how children are open to possibilities and believers. How children are dreamers and how we can become more childlike in our faith and in our lives. I just can't find any reason that this could be viewed as a bad thing. You know?

    I have studied many religions and I have found at least some goodness in each one. We are all on this journey together. I wholeheartedly agree with you that we need to love each other. We each find spirituality in our own way and that's okay.

    Good luck on your fast. It takes a great deal of discipline and self-control to fast. Each time you find yourself hungry or thinking of food, replace that thought with some spiritual goal you wish to acheive and it will make your fast even better (hope you don't mind the advice).

    LC

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  5. bz- it is a personal choice this self exploration. if this is what you want to do- then i wish you a healthy journey. i contend that there is no need for organized religion of any kind- but people choose to belong. as long as it remains a positive force- i have no beef. unfortunately, the track record of the big 4 is not very benevolent. more later. sleepys here.

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  6. Anonymous2:15 PM

    I enjoyed reading this post because some of your previous posts have blatantly slagged off Christianity and Christians. I felt as if you were stereotyping and labeling all Christians. It seemed hypocritical especially as your pursuit was peace and harmony yet you were not really demonstrating that. I was raised in a Christian household where religion was never used as a form of control but as a guide on how to live life as a good person. Someone who cares about their world and the people in it. In many ways too, Christianity has taught me to have faith when I can no longer see any good in this world. From your writing, it seems like you are now taking the best parts of many religions which are, in essence, all the same in their purity. Love towards your fellow man, truth, honesty, respect......just as Zahara says, religion as it is truly meant to be. To cut yourself a little slack here, I think this is not far from the way you have always intended to live your life and how you hope to raise your daughter. It will be interesting to see where your fasting journey takes you - good luck.

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  7. "by refraining from sexual intercourse (during fasting), violence"
    Well the first one is esay, most folks bone at night anyway, the second one just is not going to happen. a month without Muslim violence? yeah right.

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