I linked to this blog about Ramadan a couple of days ago. I had then just read the first post. The post was hilarious so I assumed — and perhaps gave you the impression –that it was a humour blog. The blog turned out to be not just humour; it is now one of the best blogs I am reading. Pure gold — read this short story, this poem, and this post by the mother of an autistic child. So visceral.
Even an atheist can read these posts about the most religious month for Muslims and chuckle or read along in agreement without having to stop and raise an eyebrow. That is because the writers talk about emotions and higher states of mind, which to me are the best bit about religions, but often obfuscated.
Sam Harris writes in a post:
People generally come away from such experiences with a sense that our conventional states of consciousness obscure and truncate insights and emotions that are sacred. If the patriarchs and matriarchs of the world’s religions experienced such states of mind, many of their claims about the nature of reality can make subjective sense. The beautific vision does not tell you anything about the birth of the cosmos—but it does reveal how utterly transfigured a mind can be by a full collision with the present moment.
And this is where sanity diverges from religion. I once asked a monk a question which had bothered me for long: How does looking inward and experiencing higher states of mind reveal truths of an absolute nature? It seemed paradoxical. But the monk was convinced they weren’t merely higher states of mind. Calling it that would demean it. These were states, he said, where the mind does not exist. And I couldn’t visualize that.
Either he was wrong or I was a n00b.
I feel Ramadan and similar forms of fasts and self-deprivation that inflict some pain on ourselves are a wonderful exercise. We don’t experience very different states of mind in our routine life. Think of a normal day: Your mind probably goes between that little-happy state, that little-unhappy state and one where you are neither happy nor unhappy.
Self-deprivation is a simple, effective way to stretch these states (As long as we agree that this or any of the aforementioned exercises do not and shall not be construed as conversations or any form of communication, direct or indirect, with god as he is popularly defined or the creator of this or all other universes that may be in existence now, in the past or in the infinite future.)
I could make a strong argument that the form of hiking I do is similar to roza in many ways. As I’ve said before: Hiking is the closest I’ll come to religion.