No Pain, No Gain?

by Modaser Shah

Ghalib, the well-known Urdu poet, in one of his ghazals says: In the dream my thoughts were involved with you; when I woke up, I found neither loss nor gain.

“The belief that a deeper connection is always available, even if it is not immediately experienced, is reassuringly expressed by the Zen monk and poet Ryokan: If we gain something, it was there from the beginning. If we lose anything, it is hidden nearby.” (Excerpted from Farrell Silverberg, PhD, The Tao of Self Psychology: Was Heinz Kohut a Taoist Sage? Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 31:475-488, 2011; the Ryokan poetry in this article is from a 1977 translation: One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry Of Ryokan, trans. J. Stevens, New York: Weatherhill )

In the above-quoted article, Dr Silverberg also touches on the Taoist concept of wu-wei (mu-i in Japanese) or nonaction: “Lao-Tzu noted, the person who is in touch with the way ‘does nothing, yet there is nothing that is not done.’

Looked at superficially, Ghalib and Ryokan may come across as promising an easy way advocating a denial of reality—the reality of loss and pain—and the need for the work of mourning that leads to growth. This may suggest that growth is possible without growing pains. Similarly, Lao-Tzu may be interpreted as recommending inaction and passivity.

The Quran says, “There is nothing for human beings except that for which they strive.” The state of being that Ghalib and Ryokan hint at, and that is indicated by nonaction in Taoism, are not achieved without effort, loss, pain, letting go and unlearning. That is to say, they are not the result of magic. Both in the Sufi literature and Zen, magic is avoided like the plague. And if there is anything that God can be said to abhor, it is magic. Yet Lao-Tzu seems to be saying the sage does nothing, yet everything that needs to be done gets done! Is there a hidden genie there somewhere? There seems to be a contradiction here and perhaps it is a dialectical opposition. Nonaction is not the same as inaction. Perhaps it is a synthesis of action and inaction. Gandhi seems to have achieved a synthesis (NOT without loss and effort) between violence and passive surrender in satyagraha, or non-violent resistance. As is well known, this was later adapted by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

Perhaps, Khushal Khan, the Pashto poet, can be called upon to mediate. With respect to Ishq, or Love, he says:

I welcome both loss and gain,

for (as a lover) I have grown accustomed to sorrow and grief

(The literal meaning of the last verse would be: I have a lease or monopoly on sorrow and grief ).

In the first line, he mentions gain, but in the second it seems all is lost and there is only sorrow. Yet this is said with such serenity, without any bitterness or regrets, that this line seems to point beyond the lines to something beyond words.

This entry was posted in Classic Poetry, Classic Teaching, Modaser Shah, Original Essays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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