By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah
08 Jun 2017
Finding Beauty Is Finding The Meaning Of Life.
What is the meaning of a game, say cricket? What else if not the play itself? When one plays well, one doesn’t worry about the point of it. What is the meaning of love? For lovers this question can’t be entertained. Love itself is the meaning, sufficient unto itself. Those who have given their hearts to beauty and the game of love have nothing more to ask for contemplating or wondering about “Ye Pari-Chehra Log Kaise Haiñ/Ghamza O Ishva O Ada Kya Hai” their heart itch or the pain of existence has been cured or transformed into something that is like the pain of love, beautiful.
Life is the meaning of Life. When life is truly – soulfully, aesthetically, intensely, ecstatically – lived, we don’t debate the meaning of life. Life pinches sometimes and we begin to worry about its meaning. But if we are truly creative, truly worshipful, truly open to love, we are celebrating or participating in the higher meaning of life. Most of us fail to find life meaningful on its own terms because we aren’t ready to dissolve into its mystery and beauty. We want it to move on our terms and make ego the king and that is the secret of our perpetual slavery. Life itself is beautiful or blissful beyond imagination – and calls for our gratitude for the gift – according to the divine wisdom vouchsafed to prophets and saints.
The demand for Iman (faith) is most fundamentally a demand for gratitude for being, for life. (Deep down we all know it and that is why aren’t ready to part with this gift on any terms. We all love life and most of us can accept death only on the supposition that is unveils new life beyond. Before everything we owe Sajda e Tashakkur to whomsoever we owe the gift of life. That is why our foremost obligation is to faith (gratitude). The term disbelief (Kufr) in the Quran is, insightfully, translated by Leila Bakhtiar in her The Sublime Quran as ingratitude. No decent person would vote for ingratitude. Ingratitude leads to despair. And that is what hell really stands for. None puts man into hell; he plunges into it. And this drama is happening every moment.
Atheism that real faith is incompatible with is what leads to despair because an atheist has nothing to thank for, nothing to love, no object of praise. There are hardly any atheists in real sense. Those who are thus labelled have many things to thank for, love and praise and thus necessarily are parasitic on bounties of faith. An atheist is one who is ever complaining and without meaning it would even curse his/her coming into the world or trivialize the gift of life (to truly mean it he/she should opt for dropping out of this festival called the world). We all become atheists to certain degree when despair, frustration, alienation, sufferings of various sorts overpowers us and we lose sight of Mercy. Only first rate saints have no complaints and are all gratitude and thus have a better idea or realization of this bliss. Artists and children also realize it to an extent. Lovers do it when love consumes them. The question is how do we come closer to this ideal of realizing bliss. One of the great answers is cultivation of beauty within and without. Attention to beauty is attention to God/Heaven. The tragedy is few see the beauty around and fewer the beauty within.
Creation narratives across traditions seem to imply aesthetic motives to be fundamental in explaining the why of creation. Beauty is its own justification. No other arguments are needed when one understands something is intrinsically beautiful. God is Beauty and Joy according to different traditions. All explanations have to stop somewhere and they stop at Beauty and that is why we identify God with Beauty and saying God we imply a full stop.
Mystics agree that all experiences (including negative ones like humiliation, frustration) may convey the taste of the Beyond and thus can be beautiful from a certain perspective – from God’s perspective all is part of harmony and thus justifiable in aesthetic terms. Nietzsche invites us to these dizzy heights from where you despise nothing and with Buddha smile on the tragicomedy of existence. Ibn Arabi is also speaking from six thousand feet above the earth when he says that he has not seen human shit. Artistic perception involves effacing the ego and being receptive to things as they are – as they disclose to us or as God addresses us through them or approaching them contemplatively and aesthetically which is what seeing things in God is like.
How do we understand this shocking insight (for all Utopian and obsessively reformist minds) regarding absolute perfection of everything as it is (and this includes drive to perfect, to seek justice, to change the world). (All reform pursued with a spirit of detachment is compatible with this insight.) Barth in concluding pages of his masterpiece The Word of God and The Word of Man also states this and then, with great insight, accommodate all the iconoclast and reformers from socialists to Nietscheans who complain about injustice and rottenness of the state of affairs we find around. To see how everything is perfect demands transcendence of passions and ego.
Ghazzali declared that this is the best possible world – in a chilling passage he implied that every tear and every heart burn and every frustration we encounter is part of the perfect picture. There is nothing disgusting, out of place. Nietzsche’s call for joyful acceptance of infinite repetition of every detail of life conveys similar frightening vision. When something of the secret of destiny was vouchsafed to Ibn Arabi, he was utterly shocked and trembled for few days. This is what prophets and saints reported – let us not forget that the prophets’ discomfort at the status quo and their zeal to change the world are part of this larger dialectics of the game of perfection in imperfection. Since absolutes belong to the otherworld, absolute perfection can never be rationally claimed regarding any earthly thing.
But seeing this imperfection as somehow an aspect of the dialectic of perfection’s unfolding is to see everything as perfect. Taken as a whole or seen with God’s eyes, there is nothing to be explained, no need to explain anything for the twice born. There is everything to be contemplated, loved and enjoyed. This constitutes the crux of traditional view of things and this view is available to all and sundry. Religions, commandments, mystical disciplines all are ultimately meant to achieve this vision.
The moment one is capable of loving (not just accepting) fate, of unconditional love, of affirming even eternal recurrence one is delivered and the universe loses its indifference or density and appears a perpetual miracle, an object of endless wonder that delights the soul, a gift for which one needs to be eternally thankful, a festival of lights and a celestial musical recital. There are countless mystics of all ages who bear witness to this and one can’t or needn’t review mystical literatures of the world here that describe God as Joy and the Other as Beloved and thus the universe as the veiled Garden of Eden. Developing an eye for its heavenly beauty is what mediates felicity or salvation. This is what Spinoza achieved by calling for intellectual love of God and Wittgenstein stated by saying “The work of art is the object seen sub species aeternitatis and the good life is the world seen sub species aeternitatis. This is the connection between art and ethics.” For him the problem of meaning of life is the problem of how to live, how to live so that life stops being problematic. “Everything is perfect.” “How things stand is God.” If you feel giddy or have doubts, consider Wittgenstein again “For doubts can only exist where a question exists; a question can only exist where an answer exists, and this can only exist where something can be said.”
Beauty needs no introduction because God grounds it and how come God would need an introduction or letter of recommendation? He is the attractive power of beauty. We simply bow to Al-Jameel and Al-Wudood. This is Fitrah. Who asks us to see mirror, groom, beautify? Attractive power of the Lord. Labbaek, we all proclaim.
A Muslim is one who surrounds himself with beauty and cultivates beauty within and then sees all things transfigured, wrapped up in glory and utters Subhan Allah (glory to God). For the sage every sight can evoke “Glory to God!” The Prophet (SAW) ordered good grooming. It is women rather than men who follow this order more strictly. Another mode of worshipping God that women are privileged to opt for is use of jewellery. Cosmetics (the word is derived from Cosmos – ordered whole) help “bringing ourselves into line with the Cosmos itself, by maximising our small part in its order and beauty” Enhancing beauty is not vanity or debasing or trivializing but “the natural feminine desire to pursue the Philosophy Cosmetic.”