“HARD-Times” & the Human Soul

December 21, 2006 § 6 Comments

Ammar Muhammad

The first “Noble Truth” of Siddhartha Gautama is unequivocal, that is to say that, this human condition is composed of integral moments of suffering. A suffering that surfaces at varying degrees, yet distinct and identifiable by our individual experiences. These experiences are not unique, although relatively speaking, suffering for one may not be suffering for another. This fact, in spite of its revealing wisdom, provides clarity to a ubiquitous dilemma. This dilemma – that begins in the primordial realm of human existence – is the very same dilemma that the world is facing today, in wars both militarily, ideologically and economically. The dilemma concerns global understanding, rather the lack thereof.

As with any dilemma, a question follows as the next happening in sequence. And in most cases – remaining consistent with our theme – the question is ‘how can the problem be solved?’ It is a good question, worthy of a good answer, but all I have are suggestions to problems that have materialized in the span of thirty-some-odd years. However, in my life, I have resources that I believe are chocked full of infallible wisdom. Then I think to myself,

“If only this human condition could withdraw long enough to prevent meandering into problems, I could make use of these wisdoms.”

However, what is true for me; my human-limitations and human-failings, is also true for humankind. This is why global-understanding is important, because it resonates with a word more cliché, yet much more meaningful, compassion. Compassion is the highest form of love, it exists between husband and spouse; the indescribable feeling (not pity) we traditionally feel for children, the poor, illiterate and/or downtrodden. Compassion is the human quality that calls our higher moral faculties to action. Consequently, in this post-honor society, a society of hysteria and trauma, these high moral-faculties are inaccessible, while the animal natures or survival are at work.

Siddhartha Gautama emphasized suffering as an “unerred” condition of life, he was not mistaken. In the Qur’an it says,

“Verily We have created man into toil and struggle.” (90:04)

And struggle we must, however, our struggle should not project us into long lasting periods of unconscious exclusivism. The struggle should be embraced as a common element of this human condition. It is a grave mistake to think that socio-political or socio-economic hegemony will protect us from struggle. A grave error indeed, we need just to look toward history to know that hegemony, in any case, is here today and gone tomorrow and therefore powerless against time.

Instead of looking toward differences among the struggle, perhaps it is time to peer into the commonalities of the struggle. Perhaps, we should include some ridiculously simple examples to sharpen our perspective a bit, for example we all share: a pair of eyes, a tongue, a pair of lips and we are all aware of – at least generally speaking – good and evil. Yet are we inclined to that which is good? What is good? I think we will all agree that freedom is good; likewise being patient and acting with self-restraint is good. Is charity not of the best acts of kindness; feeding hungry people? Are these good things? And what of those who do its opposite are they not evil? And what of those whom do nothing at all, what are they, useless yes, but they too are evil I would assume. Is it not evil to watch a man suffer in hunger when you could be of those whom do good and relieve him?

These acts deemed good though ridiculously simple, were acts of compassion. On the other-hand, a more complex and expansive view of commonalities that we share exist within the global sphere. One where those simple truths remain, but our sense of survival won’t allow compassion’s reach to extend beyond the exclusive limitations of our struggle. It seems to me that our struggle, is the struggle that we identify with; the perception that our struggle is particular to us and not them. Micro-cosmically, our struggle becomes my struggle and therefore not your struggle. But clearly this is an error in thinking; a poor philosophy which finds its roots in the period of Enlightenment which relates to greater failings of modernity noted by Dr. Mansoor when he wrote,

“Paradoxically, then, the legacy of Enlightenment that causes the greatest Angst to the modern soul springs from the insight that the human condition, when eliminated of its transcendental moorings, appears ‘beyond good and evil’. Either the goal of humanity, that renders its suffering bearable and meaningful, lies outside the horizon of history, or man is simply a ‘meaning-creating animal’ who is the source of her own morality.” (S.P. Mansoor, Islamist Discourse vsv. Postmodernity, Postmodernism: A Symptom of the Crisis of Modernism)

In the absence of knowledge of the greater suffering, that which penetrates all of humanity, compassion is lost. It is the Compassionate attribute that penetrates all of humanity to provide a platform of unity, without this there can be no benevolence, at least not for humanity, perhaps benevolence can exist for a group or community but as we discussed earlier, only for a time, history has made it painfully clear the result of exclusive campaigns of communities over time.

In conclusion, I would like to draw attention to the fundamental exchange at the heart of this article. That is the relationship between you and me; me and you and us and them. Our society has lost sight of the commonalities we share. In that we have – in a sense – lost our humanity, we are no better than packs of wolves in a struggle for the next insipid meal. It is daunting how we can so easily become self-absorbed, but that is to show how strong the state of paranoia in which we exist is. A dense fog of forgetfulness, dense enough to mistake inactive observation for a good deed! I would like to petition you to redress your approach to our struggle, so that the next time we discuss geo-political struggle, the only mentionable personal pronoun is we meaning us, all-of-us.

Photograph:

Muhammad, Ammar. Hard Times in San Diego. Renegade Media. Dec 2006

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