Solvitur Ambulando….. “It is solved by walking (away)”

by Navid Zaidi
Diogenes of Sinope (412-323 BC), also known as Diogenes the Cynic, was a Greek philosopher probably best known for his fruitless search for an honest man. He used to roam about in Athens in full daylight with a lamp in his hand and when asked what he was doing, used to reply, ‘I’m just looking for an honest man.’ He looked for a human being but reputedly only found rascals and scoundrels.
However, equally remarkable was his ability to act out the message he was trying to convey. Lore states that in a debate about the nature of motion, Diogenes, in response to an adversary’s argument that motion does not exist, stands up and walks away, prompting the Latin phrase ‘ solvitur ambulando.’ Although the literal translation of ‘solvitur ambulando’ is ‘ it is solved by walking’, the common interpretation of the phrase is that a problem is only solved by practical experiment. Virtue is better revealed in action than in theory.
Diogenes was born at Sinope (modern-day Sinop, Turkey), was exiled and moved to Athens where he challenged and criticized the established customs and social institutions. He called himself a ‘citizen of the world’ (cosmopolites) and is credited with the first known use of the word ‘cosmopolitan.’ This was at a time when a man’s identity was intimately tied to his citizenship in a particular city-state. Diogenes was an exile and an outcast, a man with no social identity, but he made a mark on his contemporaries.
Diogenes used to challenge Plato and his abstract philosophy. He regularly disturbed Plato’s lectures. When Plato gave Socrates’s definition of man as ‘featherless biped’ and was much praised for this definition, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it to Plato’s Academy saying, ‘Behold! I’ve brought you a man.’
Diogenes lived in a large clay jar, in poverty, begged for a living, slept and ate wherever he chose against all the cultural norms of Athens. He publicly mocked Alexander the Great. In a famous encounter, while Diogenes was relaxing in the sunlight one morning, Alexander, thrilled to meet the famous philosopher, asked if there was any favor he might do for him. Diogenes replied, ‘Yes, stand out of my sunlight.’
Diogenes is considered one of the founders of Cynicism. For the cynics, the purpose of life was to live in virtue, in agreement with nature. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by living in a way which was natural, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex and fame. Instead, they were to lead a simple life free from all possessions. Diogenes destroyed the single wooden bowl he possessed on seeing a peasant boy drink from the hollow of his hands. He exclaimed, ‘Fool that I am, to have been carrying superfluous baggage all this time.’
Diogenes was captured by pirates and sold as a slave in the Greek city of Corinth where he grew old and died at an age of 89. The Corinthians erected to his memory a pillar on which rested a dog as there were many stories of Diogenes referring to his ‘dog-like’ behavior and his praise of a dog’s virtues.
Diogenes tried to show that wisdom and happiness belong to the person who is independent of society, civilization, family, politics, property and reputation. Like Diogenes, perhaps one can solve the most complex problems of life by walking away, stop being offended, letting go of the need to win, letting go of the need to be right, letting go of the need to be superior, letting go of achievements and reputation.
And on this path one can hope to have more success than Diogenes’s search for an honest man. Perhaps someone has a lamp we can borrow…….
(Painting: Diogenes looking for a man – attributed to JHW Tischbein, public domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons)
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Ishq Kia Hai (Define Love): A Ghazal

by Ali Hammad ‘Hami’

عشق کیا ہے، کیا وفا اور کیا ہے آس
بھوک ملنےکی یہ جلنے کی ہے پیاس

بندگی ہے نام جس کا میں ہی ہوں
قید میں ہیں آپ کی میرے حواس

ہوں جدا شعلہ الاؤ سے میں ایک
اور تنہائی نہ آئے مجھ کو راس

میں معلّم ہوں وفا کا بس کہ یوں
ہر پتنگا ہو کے جاتا میرے پاس

اک پریشاں سا تفکّر زندگی
ہے ثباتی گرکوئی تیرا قیاس


ishq kia hai, kia vafā, aur kia hai aas
bhuuk milne kī, ye jalne kī hai pyās

bandagī hai nām jis kā, maiñ hī huuñ
qaid meñ haiñ aap kī mere havās

huuñ judā sho.alā alāv se maiñ ek
aur tanhāī na aa.ē mujh ko rās

maiñ moallim huuñ vafā ka bas ki yuuñ
har patiñgā ho ke jātā mere pās

ik pareshāñ sā tafakkur zindagī
hai sabātī gar koī, tera qayās

(Ali Hammad ‘Hami’)

What constitutes love, or attachment, or hope?
A longing to unite, and the desire to burn in that longing

An epitome of relinquishment, I am
As you have taken charge of my senses

I’m a spark ejected from the conflagration
And I can’t come to terms with this aloneness

I am the purveyor of attachment, behold!
Each (flame-loving) moth first comes to me (for initiation)

No more than a stray thought, this life
No constancy hither, other than your thought

(Ali Hammad ‘Hami’)



(omits the third verse of the above ghazal)

Composed and performed by: Abbas Ali Khan

Written by: Ali Hammad ‘Hami’

Produced by: Aziz Anjum


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Goethe, Nasruddin…and Da’ish

by Modaser Shah

“Mehr Licht (More light),” said Goethe.

While, in the fable of the Lost Keys, Mullah Nasruddin points to the dark to look for lost keys, Goethe, captivated by the spirit of enlightenment, calls for more light. Get rid of all darkness, he seems to say, let’s have light only.

But, I think, the Mullah seems to be going deeper, saying that there is darkness in light, as there is light in darkness, truth in falsehood and falsehood in truth. There is no pureness anywhere to be found. There is an old saying based on this dialectic: Respect those who search for the truth; beware of those who have found it.

And what is ISIS but one example of escape from the complex reality that the world has become for modern Muslimhood. It would like to see it the way it used to be: shorn of any differences, conflicts, dialectical contradictions, light and darkness. Hence is the need for destruction: wiping out Muslims with different interpretation of the religion, people of other cultures and languages, extirpation of pre-Islamic relics (lest those relics of their own forefathers lead the current and future generations away from purity). In this sense they are in perverse agreement with Goethe, not Nasruddin: they feel they possess the light that must banish all darkness, although their movement is in the opposite direction from what the great poet would have wished.

Whereas DA’iSH (ISIS) believes it has found THE TRUTH, the one true version of the religion, the light with which all darkness must be banished, the Mullah seems to say the “keys” are always going with wherever the darkness goes; this is how the world and human beings are, in esse.

In another fable, the Mulla was grateful when he lost his donkey, that he was not riding the beast when it lost its way. He was happy to keep his confused, contradictory, conflicted humanity in not being on the donkey into a world of robotic simplicity, where someone does your thinking for you and tells you what to do and where to go.

In yet another story, the Mullah was asked where the center of the earth was. His vanity didn’t allow him to say he did not know. Instead he said it was under his donkey’s legs. To forestall further queries and doubts, he challenged his interlocutors to go measure it, if they doubted his answer!

Perhaps, he did know.

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ISIS and the dead

by Modaser Shah

Da’ISH, or ISIS, has claimed responsibility for a recent (4/19/2015)  suicide bombing in Jalalabad; the Taliban have condemned it. The latter are looking more & more like moderates in light of what the former is only too willing to take credit for. ISIS seems to require more  dead people, and it refuses advice, perhaps ascribing to the aphorism:  Optimi conciliari mortui (The best counsellors are the dead ones).
A Zen monk and a Guru were travelling together along a riverbank and decided to visit an adjacent island. The Guru sugested they walk. “Why not take the ferry?” the monk said. The Guru said because he had spent twenty years learning to walk on water, to which the monk responded: Why take twenty years learning to walk on water,when you can take a ferry for a paisa (penny)?

Perhaps there is a less expensive way (in terms of lives!) to achieve what they are striving for, their desire (unless it is death that they desire).  Are years of mayhem necessary?

A Zen saying goes, “Today’s enlightenment becomes tomorrow’s delusion.” An ideology may be perceived as an enlightenment at a particular time. But perhaps not for long, at least not all of it. Contradictions, paradoxes, absurdities, even falsities being part & parcel of a human (all too human!) whole, splits & conflicts arise and deconstruction &  new synthesis follow. The wheel keeps  turning.

The question is: Will the split represented by ISIS lead to a new synthesis? If there is a potential there, then there are opportunities for development, arising from the existence of what otherwise strikes most people as a malignant growth. How can anything good come out of a cancer?

Most Muslims tend to deny that members of this organization are Muslims, given that ISIS indulges in wholesale Takfir, which is decried as an extremist practice.

It is worth considering that they and other such groups represent certain elements in our history, psychology, ideologies and practices, that we don’t want to face up to, because they contradict our ideal images of our ancestors & ourselves; our need to see them as more than just human. ISIS,then, is doing the service of bringing to our attention things we would not rather think about, but deny or repress. They are the “return of the repressed,” in psychoanalytic terms, the way the haunting spirits of the dead are.

The denied or repressed elements can go back for generations; ISIS may represent the transmitted traumas of our collective & individual pasts. It is well known in psychiatry that unmourned & unintegrated traumas & losses tend to repeat themselves in one way or another, looking for a way out, looking for recognition and acceptance. The past haunting the present, blocking the future! Isn’t that what ISIS is, a  past disfigured by the present or vice versa?

There are innumerable losses, traumas stemming from early history, but one that was certainly uniquely catastrophic in the extreme, was the Prophet’s death, for which the community was not prepared, as can be inferred from Abu Bakr’s & Omar’s diametrically opposite reactions. The latter  showed a more emotional response, threatening to kill anyone who spoke the truth about what had happened, i.e., the reality of loss. The former was more cool & rational; he prevailed, and yet, for that reason, the community could not mourn & process the traumatic loss & confusion & so had to pass this task on to future generations, to us, and more than likely we are going to pass these on.

As you may recall, Nasruddin (the wise fool of the Sufi lore) was looking for his lost keys where there was light, rather than where he had lost them, in the dark. The past is “known”, or taken to be known; the present & future are not. The former is the light, the latter the dark. Hence,the part of us that is “ISIS” is looking for “the keys” in the certainties of the reported, unrepressed past, not in the uncertain darkness of the shunned/dead  past, or the present & the future.

The formula seems to be: follow the acceptable past and the future is guaranteed.

What was Nasruddin trying to tell us?

He was asked once how old he was. He said 40 years old. Asked the same question several years later, he gave the same answer. When questioned about his truthfulness, he said “A truthful man does not turn away from his word.” What a mullah! Stick to the (told) truth & time, aging stop. This strategy would stop, indeed reverse, the passage of time, undo/deny the reality of loss, of abandonment, humiliations (of growing old, whether for an individual like the Mullah, or a civilization).


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The Law of Human Nature

by Navid Zaidi

In order to grasp the meaning of existence I must be in a position to study some privileged case of existence which is absolutely unquestionable and gives me assurance of a direct vision of Reality.

Fortunately, I am in possession of such a special case: Myself.

Now, my perception of the universe is superficial and external; but my perception of my own self is internal, intimate and profound. I do not merely observe humans, I am human. It follows, therefore, that my own conscious experience of myself is that privileged case of existence in which I am in absolute contact with Reality, and an analysis of this privileged case is likely to throw a flood of light on the ultimate meaning of existence.

What do I find when I fix my gaze on my own conscious experience?

“Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the Moral Law within.”     –  Immanuel Kant

I am always haunted by the idea of a kind of behavior I ought to practice, I may call it fair play, or decency or morality. It tells me what I ought to do. In other words, when I deal with Nature, something else comes in above and beyond the actual facts. I have the facts (how I behave) but I also have something else (how I ought to behave). In the rest of the universe there need not be anything but the facts. Electrons and molecules behave in a certain way and that may be the whole story. But I behave in a certain way and that is not the whole story.

Consequently, as explained by C.S Lewis (Oxford and Cambridge Scholar), the Law of Right and Wrong is a real thing, not made up by myself. It is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of my behavior and yet real- a real law that none of us made but I find it pressing on me. I am always forced to follow the Moral Law and believe in a real Right and Wrong, whether I like it or not.

So, the creature called human has this Moral Law. Everyone knows it by nature and does not need to be taught it.

Nature is subject to various laws, gravitation, motion, laws of physics and chemistry but there is a great difference. A stone cannot choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a human can choose either to obey the Moral Law or to disobey it.

We cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking the Moral Law. Humans all over the world have this idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. In this regard, we compare the moral teachings of ancient Egyptians, Hindus, Greeks, Chinese and Romans, they are all strikingly similar to one another and to our own nowadays.

The Moral Law tells me that there is a Something behind the universe which appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.

‘Something unknown is doing we don’t know what. That is what our theory amounts to.”   (Sir Arthur Eddington, expressing the quantum theory).

And consider these words of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck (the father of quantum theory) as he accepted his award for his study of the atom:

“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together…..We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”

I have to assume it is more like a Mind than anything else behind the Moral Law. That is to say that this Universal Mind is conscious, and has purposes, and prefers one thing over another. This conscious Mind has placed the Moral Law into my mind and is intensely interested in right conduct- fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness.


C. S. Lewis:    Mere Christianity

Allama Iqbal:   The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam

Francis Collins:    The Language of God

Paul Davies:    The Mind of God

Wayne Dyer:    The Power of Intention

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The Power of Feelings

by Navid Zaidi

The mind is everything. What you think you become ——–Buddha

As you think so shall you be ——- Jesus

Once a tall young man came to Lahore from the town of Merv in Afghanistan. He went to see the venerable saint Ali Hujwiri (990-1077), the patron saint of Lahore, Pakistan, popularly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh (the Master who bestows treasures) to seek guidance. He told the saint that he was hemmed in by his enemies and didn’t know what to do. He said he felt like glass in the midst of stones.

Saint Hujwiri replied:

” You have not learned anything about life. Be without fear of others !  You are a sleeping force: awake!  When the stone thinks of itself as glass, it becomes glass and gets on the way of breaking. When the traveler considers himself weak, he delivers his soul to the robbers. How long will you regard yourself as water and clay? Why are you complaining about enemies; your enemy is your friend. Your enemy crowns you with glory. You should consider a powerful enemy to be a blessing from God. To the seed of Man the enemy is as a rain-cloud; he awakens its potentialities. If your spirit is strong, the stones in your way are like water. What is the use of eating and sleeping like a beast? What is the use of being unless you have strength in yourself. Know the states of Self and be a man of action, like Joseph, advance from captivity to empire ! ”

What does the Sufi saint really mean?

Our feelings have a lot to do with who we are and what we do. They play a major role in our circumstances and the people that show up in our lives. What we focus on, our beliefs, our fears, our worries and doubts become our reality because they are present in our minds.

We make our world with our thoughts. If we think we are weak we become weak, and if we think we are strong we become strong. Everything is energy and with our thoughts we send our vibrations into the universe, we get back what we send out there. It is a law, just like the law of gravitation, we have the law of attraction.

If we think we are strong we will send a strong signal to the universal field and we will start attracting all the strength in our lives, all the wonderful situations and people that will make us stronger. Like attracts like.

Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right ——- Henry Ford                                   

We become what we think about all day long   ——-   Ralph Waldo Emerson

If we want to change our lives we have to change the way we think. Shift our attention from weakness and illness towards strength, health and happiness. Keep an open mind. Be patient. Have faith.

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Learning After You Know…

by Modaser Shah

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”  (Earl Weaver, Zen Calendar)

Behind this know-it-all, self-sufficient posture is uncertainty and doubt, those truly human qualities.I f you don’t recognize & own these, the need to learn from someone other than yourself, it is  hard  be open to knowing.

One needs to learn how to learn (Idries Shah) and learn how to unlearn and to let go or drop things. Nasruddin (the Sufi sage who was always in guise of a fool) had to drop his keys before he could begin to learn and to teach by showing. He did this by looking for the keys under a lamppost, not in the dark where he had actually lost them.

The Tao view of learning is as follows: “In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.”

These are two different states of consciousness.That of learning in the usual sense and that of Tao. They are different, but not separate. They imply and contain each other. To pass from one to the other, something has to (be let) go, not something trivial but something deep within:

“Wherever I may be I meet him, he is no other than myself. Yet I am not he.”  (Dosan, Zen Calendar)

Is this an attack on logic, on I-ness and He-ness, on identity? Does it weaken or threaten you? Or strengthen you? Or both.? It is apparently not a zero sum game. The laws of thermodynamics don’t apply. Or if they do, they don’t fully.

“Knowing ignorance is strength; ignoring knowledge is sickness.” (LaoTsu)

So what happens to the self-sufficient persona, as it faces the REAL or the Other? Let us listen:

“I should be content to look at a mountain for what it is and not as a comment on my life.”   (David Ignaow)

The mountain as a mountain, a thing in itself; not diminishing or exalting one’s existence. Seeing things as they are, no more, no less. How simple and how hard.

What about the painful struggles and suffering, that are the fate of those who dare to drop their self-sufficiency, to be alive and  jump into the river of fire,  as Ghalib, the Sufi Indian poet,  says. The struggle of forming and unforming, life and death. The Heart Sutra (some have called it The Heart Attack Sutra) waxes eloquent:

“All form is emptiness, all emptiness is form…

No old age and death and no end to old age and death.

No suffering and no end to suffering.”

This is Nirvana, enlightenment. Not self-sufficiency by any stretch.

Allama Iqbal says: if you are thirsty for a look, close your eyes, to make sure that no one looks. A wise artist said:” In order to see, I have to close my eyes.”  So there is looking without seeing; seeing without looking.

One has to gaze at reality,but this is not without danger to identity. It may be you. And yet not you. You and not-you, this can be shocking and intoxicating at the same time. Lost & found. Like Nasruddin’s keys, you can’t be found until you are lost, a believer until an unbeliever, sane until insane. Clean follows unclean.

A quote from After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (The title of a book on Zen): Having sense emerges out of senselessness

The translation of a verse by Maulana Amir Meenai: “The pious naively invite us to the mosque; If we  had sense, why would we be in the tavern?”  So, in closing the eyes and losing sense, giving up  your identity, you may become who you were meant to be. You may win some, you may lose some. Head to the tavern and lose your senses, piety blossoms in the middle of impious revelry, says the Maulana. And, it may be added, revelrous impiety in the bosom of piety.

” Lose your way, but then return.” (Taigen Dan Leighton).



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