Dr Ghayur Ayub
THREE decades ago, I was asked about the purpose of my life. Without hesitation, I replied, to achieve the highest position in my profession which I attained at a young age. Did I sense the fulfilment? Not at all! If the same question is asked of me today, my answer would be, to nurture my soul. Nurturing one’s soul requires knowledge regarding theology, philosophy and spirituality. A question arises; are these three not important ingredients of organized religion, whereas there are millions who do not follow religions? My answer would be that an atheist can read about religions without following them. So let’s take it in that context. Theology talks about the world of the unseen or ‘Aalam e Ghaib’ and links three entities to it; godhead, the spirit and the soul. The knowledge required to understand this world is Intuition. Some call it instinct or gut feeling. It is distinct from logic.
To give an example, I go to a shop to buy myself a shirt. As I enter the store suddenly my eyes get affixed onto a jacket. I move towards it and in no time it finds its place in my shopping basket! This action was purely based on intuition. After selecting the coat, I concentrate on the shirt and by now my selection criterion has changed. Now I am searching for a shirt to match the jacket. This process is based on logic. To look at it in reverse, one can say that my logical thought of selecting a shirt sprang out of intuitional act of buying a jacket, thus indicating the complexity of correlation between intuition and logic.
Logic is an integral part of philosophy which deals with the world of the seen or the world around us. Let me provide a second example. I decide to open my fisted left hand with the right hand. I know I will not have any problem because being right handed, my right hand is stronger than the left. I use reasoning to prove my point. Suppose my right hand is weak because of an injury sustained a day earlier. Would I be able? A doubt creeps up. This dispute between reason and doubt that creates a paradox makes logic. Remember, logic at this stage is at a thinking level.
Now, I use my right hand and successfully open my left fist. The use of force becomes the cause and the opening of the fist becomes an effect. Combining reason and doubt at thinking level with cause and effect at actionable level makes Philosophy. Going further, a cause can be an effect of other cause or an effect may become a cause to other effect. So cause becomes an effect and effect becomes a cause and the process continues. It is for this reason that philosophy is also called an open ended knowledge.
So here we are looking at two types of knowledge – Intuition and Philosophy. Para-psychologists say that left side of the brain deals with philosophical knowledge and the right side with intuitional knowledge.
What about the third ingredient-spirituality? Sufis, say that it is shrouded with good deeds and plays a bridging role between the world of the seen in the domain of philosophy and the world of the unseen in the domain of theology. One doesn’t have to be a theologian or a scholar to become a spiritualist. All it requires is to become a good human being and help humanity. So, the three ingredients of religion tell us about two types of knowledge-philosophical and intuitional – and one face of action – good deeds. Quran mentions knowledge and action as ‘Ilm’ and ‘Amal’, respectively. The theologians stress that if we follow the two vigorously there will be a reward in the life after. They ignore the fact that the two can bring a successful and prosperous life in this world too.
Such a success depends on a linkage between two entities – soul and spirit. Quran talks about the two by stating, “O humans! Be pious (meaning by, be aware of your duty) to your Lord, Who created you from a single soul, (4:1). And, “Then He shaped him (in due proportions), and breathed in him of His spirit, (32:9)
The verses indicate that every human has a soul and spirit. It is the rapport between them which affects our lives. Let me give a third example. Suppose, the two are connected in the womb through umbilical cord wherein spirit keeps its solacing effect on the soul of the unborn child. After birth, at cutting of the cord, the soul is separated from the spirit but the solacing effect lingers on during childhood keeping the child innocent. Later in life, sinful encounters makes the soul polluted. A polluted soul cannot get solace because it is not linked with the spirit. In such scenario, no matter how successful the person is in worldly affairs, he/she remains moody, restless, tense and intrusive. Invariably, he/she spends a handsome amount on visiting psychologist or psychiatrist who puts him/her on tranquillizers or mood elevating drugs. The question is, did he/she achieve the purpose of life? In my experience no. Because, despite his/her worldly achievements, his/her soul remains restless without reunion with the spirit which was separated at cutting of the umbilical cord.
Before such reunion, the soul has to be nurtured as a pre-condition. It is the nurturing of the soul which should be the primary purpose of life. In the process of nurturing, he/she becomes a good human being and works hard to achieve worldly goals while staying, honest, upright, tolerant and humble. Secondly, his/her soul is elevated and becomes ready for reunion with spirit. Hence, this person not only shines in whatever he/she does professionally without facing mental health problems and indulging in egoistic rat race, but he/she also values the purpose of his/her life in this world and the world beyond. So the keyword is: if you want to be successful in whatever you do in this world, link your soul with spirit and make it the purpose of life.
— The writer is senior columnist based in London