Ohh yea!

About a month ago I was invited by the Muslim Student Association at my school to attend a talk given by a professor of Islam. The professor proceeded to give a beautiful image of Islam, its practices and meanings, its encouraging of pluralism over evangelism, and its humanistic values.

I had asked why Muslims were to pray five times a day towards Mecca. The practice itself is awe-inspiring, that upwards of 1 billion people perform this act of faith each day. He said, and reminds me that he has always said, “The nature of humanity if forgetfulness. We need reminders.” Prayer was one way of reminding oneself throughout the day about one’s faith and service to God. That it is done by so many people around the world in common spirit must also be a reminder of the communal fellowship that they all share.

That was all I needed to hear.

Too many times I have forgotten the truths and needed reminders. It’s too easy for me to overlook being mindful, being kind, being loving, and letting go, especially if I’m feeling the need to be right. There’s a story of Ajahn Brahm’s that clearly illustrated this for me:

A newly married couple went for a walk together in a wood, one fine summer’s evening after dinner. They were having such a wonderful time being together until they heard a sound in the distance: ‘Quack! Quack!’

‘Listen,’said the wife, ‘That must be a chicken.’
‘No,no. That was a duck,’ said the husband.
‘No, I’m sure that was a chicken,’ she said.
‘Impossible. Chicken go “Cock-a-doodle-doo”, ducks go “Quack! Quack!” That’s a duck, darling,’ he said, with the first signs of irritation.
‘Quack! Quack!” it went again.
‘See! It’s a duck,’ he said.
‘No dear. That’s a chicken. I’m positive,’ she asserted, digging in her heels.
‘Listen wife! That….is….a…duck. D-U-C-K, duck! Got it?’ he said angrily.
‘But it’s a chicken,’ she protested.
‘It’s a blooming duck, you,you….’
And it went ‘Quack! Quack!’ again before he said something he oughtn’t.
The wife was almost in tears. ‘But it’s a chicken.’
The husband saw the tears welling up in his wife’s eyes and, at last, remembered why he had married her. His face softened and he said gently, ‘Sorry, darling. I think you must be right. This is a chicken.’
‘Thank you, darling.’ She said and she squeezed his hand.
‘Quack! Quack!’ came the sound through the woods, as they continued their walk together in love.

As soon as he saw those tears, it was like the striking of the bell in meditation. Suddenly all the noisiness had become clear and he was reminded of their commitment. I rather like the story because the reminder happened in such an everyday fashion. These bells of mindfulness ring throughout the day. I just have to learn to listen.

7 Replies to “Ohh yea!”

  1. I find some aspects of their ways inspiring. For example, they seem to value modesty in men and women, two things that I think western society should learn from. In some ways I see why they would resort to violence and terror when the imoralities of western secular consumer culture threaten to tear apart the close knit and modest religious values they have lived by for centuries. Islam is one of if not the only major world religion whose founder actually allowed for war to be waged to protect the religion and its adherents. I once read an interview with a jihadist where he said flat out that a lot of Muslims consider bin Laden to be a sort of “che guevara” figure for Muslims. Also, I still remember the images after 9/11 with the crowds of Muslim men women and children cheering and dancing in the streets in Middle Eastern cities as they watched the twin towers fall. As an American I admire some aspects of their culture but I can honestly say I don’t really trust them all that much. I suppose they would say the same for me. As a Buddhist I too feel that secular consumer culture is base and immoral and a threat to traditional religious values, but the Buddha never called on his followers to take up arms for any reason. Perhaps there could be common ground between Buddhists and Muslims on certain things, but on the issue of fighting to defend the religion I can’t see us ever seeing eye to eye. Killing is always wrong from the Theravada Buddhist perspective. There are no grey areas when it would be morally justified.

    That being said, dialogue with Muslims would be a good thing if at least to foster some kind of common ground and understanding somewhere, but I harbor no illusions that they all “come in peace.”

  2. @Justin: That’s quite a bit you’ve got on your mind there. Thank you for sharing some thoughts. Word and practice is always an important distinction to make because word is ossified while practice is living. Whereas word comes handed down from the past, practice is the living tradition of trying to meet these demands with the demands of the present.

    That Islam’s founder allowed for war where Christ did not is only part of the puzzle. Both employed their faiths for conflict and division. And while Buddhism’s word and principle are nonviolent, it’s history is not excluded from entanglement inviolence. Intra-faith battles and Zen support of Japanese militarism to name some examples. The Buddha himself implicitly accepted violence as a necessity of political power and stability when he accepted the patronage of kings. That Gotama did it to protect his community of followers does not exclude Buddhism from being a part of the violence.

    Looking at practice, we may see the celebration of the falling of the twin towers as examples of Muslim ill-will and inclination towards violence. But to make such a wide generalization based on hearsay and the most outstanding examples is misleading both to ourselves and to the people generalized. That again, is only part of the puzzle.

    Dialogue with Muslims would be a good thing. But dialogue is a two-way street, and any lack of trust on our side means an equal lack of trust and openness on the other end. It’s just karma =)

    @Anna: Thank you! If by meditation bell you mean reminder, then I’m glad. Otherwise, too many words on my part, not enough simple clarity =P

  3. Hi Oz,

    The Muslim connection to violence is no hearsay! Simply look at a newspaper.

    And I’m not just talking about Mulsim violence in the Middle East (the hanging of gays, the beating of women for letting their headscarves slip to one side, the constant persecuction of ancient Christian communities), it’s everywhere.

    It’s in the Muslim targetting of Buddhist school teachers in Southern Thailand, it’s in the honour beatings in England, in violence right across Europe.

    In the results of a survey published this weekend, it was found that a third (32%) of Muslim students in Britain believe killing someone in the name of religion is justified:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/2461830/Killing-for-religion-is-justified,-say-third-of-Muslim-students.html

    These are not oppressed Muslims from an impoverished background. These are educated middle-class Muslims from Britain at british universities.

    In contrast, among non-Muslims, 94% said killing in the name of religion can never be justified. (Onlt 53% of Mulsims held that view).

    I think Justin is right – although many Muslims are perfectly good people – please don’t think that Islam comes in peace.

    Marcus

  4. In response to Marcus, I strongly feel that “Muslim violence” is more political and cultural than religious. Granted, the Qur’an justifies violence in a way that cannot be justified in Buddhism. But we must realize the irony that when we decry “Muslim violence”, we are speaking directly to the extremists that we supposedly oppose — all the while ignoring the majority of Muslims, who don’t spend their lunch hours planning bomb attacks.

    Our government (not necessarily led by an administration that all trust and love) spends a lot of effort trying to make the case that we respect Islam and that the war on terror is not a war against Islam. When American civilians (right, left and center) disrespect Islam and call Muslims religious goons, we take ourselves a step down from the political decency we claim to support. And I’m sure it convinces Muslims around the world that we’re really not out to get them.

    Lastly, Marcus’ comment on the insurgency in Southern Thailand is a bit misleading. The insurgency in Southern Thailand is more political than religious, and it’s also has its fair share of Muslim victims at the hands of the insurgents.

  5. I am such an American.

    I totally assumed that Marcus is American. Apologies to everyone… especially other Americans out there! I don’t mean to make us look bad!

  6. Hi Arunlikhati,

    No need to apologise! I have huge regard for Americans. In fact, I can honestly say I have never met an Amarican I didn’t like.

    I have always found them honest and sincere and very very nice towards me. So no apology needed!

    But a couple of points….

    The Koran doesn’t just ‘justify’ violence – it promotes it. I won’t bother with any quotes here, they are easy enough to find. Many are truly horrific and exhort Muslims to kill every last Jew for example.

    And as for the majority of Muslims not making bombs in their llunch hour, this is, of course, absolutely true. No doubt about it. But enough do spend their lunch hours making bombs to cause serious concern.

    Here’s a link from this week, I can provide links to bomb-making Muslims every single week of the year if you wish:

    http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticle08.asp?xfile=data/middleeast/2008/July/middleeast_July765.xml&section=middleeast

    Now, I’m not out to ‘get’ Muslims, but it would appear that a large enough minority of them is out to get us to make me question your description of Islam in the original post.

    But enough from me! Like you say, the majority are perfectly nice people and it’s that what we should focus on I guess.

    And thank you for such a lovely blog too! I found it through Gerald’s ‘Level 8’ blog, and I’m very glad I did!

    Kwan Seum Bosal,

    Marcus

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