Sunday, July 08, 2007

I want to read ten million books in my lifetime

My Research Interests One of the reasons why I kind of hope reincarnation exists is because I want to read ten million books in my lifetime. Well, here is a list of broad research areas that I seem to be obsessed with. There are actually too many to list here, but I’m putting down the most important ones for now:
Cognitive science, neuroscience, and neurotheology: How do the latest findings of these sciences tie in with spiritual realization and spiritual pursuits? For instance, how do the findings of neuroplasticity relate to the effects of meditation and spiritual experiences? I’ve experienced so many tangible changes in my personality as a result of my awakenings — some of my old habits and mind-patterns have been shattered completely — that I strongly suspect that if I had taken fMRI scans of my brain before and after these experiences, I would have noted tangible changes in the neural network patterns. I would like to see if I can track these sorts of changes in myself as I grow spiritually and to that end I’d like to participate in experiments on meditators. I’m also curious to see how spiritual experiences triggered by neurotheology experiments that stimulate certain parts of my brain compare phenomenologically to the actual spontaneous spiritual awakenings I’ve had. If I some day have the time, I’d like to set up a website on the Internet that would serve as an annotated bibliography on brain science and how it relates to spiritual experiences...
An integral understanding of the Islamic religion: Or, what would Sri Aurobindo do? We are living in a world where Islamic fundamentalism has become a huge problem. In fact even as I type this, Islamabad, the city I live in, has been brought to a standstill by the extremists at a religious seminary known as the Lal Masjid. Islam was the religion of my birth and the religion I grew up in. I gave up on Islam for a number of reasons, but possibly mainly because I could not reconcile it with my feminism and my queerness. Since then I have had spiritual experiences that have led me to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, but I believe they would have wanted me to heal from whatever negativity I feel toward the Islamic religion.
Like all religions, it served its purpose and had its role to play in the awakening of humanity. Whether I like it or not, my experience of Islam and Islamic society, however negative, has shaped who I am today, and as a result, I tend to obsessively research Islam, using traditional, modern and mystical sources, because I yearn to see the Divine Light and beauty in Islam. Moreover, I believe that in order to combat religious fundamentalism, one must learn the fundamentalists’ language inside out and assign new meanings to it. In other words, one can take a fundamentalist’s symbol space and transmit a new consciousness using that very symbol space, which is what I believe many great Sufi teachers that I admire are doing.
Contrary to the way many “spiritual” people tackle the matter in an emotional, knee-jerk way, I believe that both Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda (not to mention Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan, Shaykha Fariha al-Jerrahi and other Sufi masters!) had a remarkably nuanced and balanced approach in dealing with Islamic fundamentalism, all the while appreciating the important role played by Islam in challenging the Hindu caste system, and acknowledging Sufism as an important set of Mohammadan yogas. Islam’s embrace of the world prompted Vivekananda to invent the phrase phrase “Islamic body, Vedantic brain”, and Sri Aurobindo to write:
“Mahomed’s mission was necessary, else we might have ended by thinking, in the exaggeration of our efforts at self-purification, that earth was meant only for the monk and the city created as a vestibule for the desert.”
It’s that heart-centered, balanced, and gnostic approach that I would like to emulate on my own journey, and I also want to seek guidance from Sufi masters during this process. Posted by ned on July 8, 2007. Filed under Notes and Speculations. the stumbling mystic God shall grow up . . . while the wise men talk and sleep.

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