Baba Nanak Within Reach, by Muzaffar Ghaffar

A short introduction to the work of Muzaffar Ghaffar, who has published 30 volumes of classical punjabi poetry with detailed explanations and translation.  Written by Punjabi writer Nadir Ali (who happens to be my father)

Muzaffar Ghaffar on Guru Nanak

BAABA NAANAK Within Reach  –  in MUZAFFAR GHAFFAR’S series “Masterworks of Punjabi Sufi Poetry”

Publisher :Ferozsons (Pvt) LTD       Pages :  435        Price : Rs 1095

In the cultural wasteland that is our homeland these days, to be a man of culture doesn’t take much effort; you do some literary chit chat or somehow get your name printed with some work people assume as cultural or creative and you become a cultural or literary figure! Having known Muzaffar Ghaffar for over thirty years, he is an honourable and notable exception to this superficial trend.  He came to Pakistan with his savings and a couple of books in print, a book of English verse which has had a couple of editions published and a book On How a Government is Run .  In my involvement with Punjabi we came together in the weekly “Sangat” in readings of Punjabi classic poetry held at the residence of Najm Hosain Syed and Samina Hassan Syed and I have had the pleasure of knowing him for over 30 years now.

A digression first: Najm Sahib is already famous in Punjabi literary circles in both East and West Punjab.  To give you some idea I often quote a well-known Sikh scholar of Punjabi who was Head of Punjabi Department at Guru Nanak University, Amritsar.  He said, “There are two categories of Punjabis – those who have studied Mr. Najm Hosain Syed and those who have not; those who have not read him do not know much about Punjabi language or literature!”  To those not familiar with Mr. Najm Hosain Syed’s work, this may sound like an exaggeration.  But having attended weekly meetings at his house for nearly forty years and having read his poetry and books on literary criticism, plays and poetry, I venture to share this remark.  There are almost forty books of verse and landmark works of literary criticism and four books combining half a dozen plays  in Punjabi to his credit.  He keeps his books small so that the price remains within reach of Punjabi readers. “Recurrent Patterns in Punjabi Poetry” is his masterwork and the full text is online at apnaorg.com. 

Najm is Muzaffar’s guide and inspiration for the thirty volumes of the “Within Reach” series on Punjabi Classical poetry that are available to date, all in English.  But neither in the US, nor in England and rest of English speaking world abroad have I seen these books in the market, although Punjabi literature is taught in many places in institutes of repute in these countries, with considerable Punjabi speaking public.  Nor do I know of anyone abroad who talks of these books. In particular the worth and value of this remarkable volume “Baaba Naanak Within Reach” on Baba Nanak’s poetry is incalculable, and it is our enormous loss that this work of M. Ghaffar remains largely unknown. Continue reading “Baba Nanak Within Reach, by Muzaffar Ghaffar”

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Review: The Army and Democracy by Aqil Shah

Book review as receieved from Major Amin

This is an interesting book and what the author wants to say is something I have always believed and said. However it is essential to examine in detail what Mr Aqil Shah has to say and offer some humble analysis .
On page- ix , would like to offer some comments on Mr Ahmad Mukhtar :–

Mr Mukhtar has been an industrialist who belongs to a town close to the military garrison town known as Kharian cantonment.He has always maintained good relations with the army like any good business man and ,frankly like most politicians in this world has no substance. Just like most generals worldwide are men without substance !

Firstly I do not agree with Aqil Shahs argument about Mr Jinnah on page-3 , nor with Aqil Shahs view that military coups and adventurism were not inevitable in Pakistan:–

We hold the view that Mr Jinnah the so called founder of Pakistan apart from British Raj , had inflicted the unkindest cut on Indian Muslims of Bengal and Punjab in 1916 and thereby by doing this had destabilized future politics of Indian Muslims for all times to come,Pakistan being the worst affected.

In the Lucknow Pact of 1916, without asking the Bengali Muslims or the Punjabi Muslims, he reduced Bengal Muslim majority in legislature from 52 to 40 % and in Punjab from 54 to 50 %. Continue reading “Review: The Army and Democracy by Aqil Shah”

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Review: The Intellectuals who Remade Asia (Pankaj Mishra)

This was a long rolling rant I wrote several years ago while reading Pankaj Mishra’s book “From The Ruins of Empire; The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia”. The format is that I comment as I read the book. So early parts are comments on early chapters and so on. Quotes from Pankaj are in bolded italics. I am reposting today after someone complained that it still needs some editing. Hopefully this version will be easier to read.

First things first, this books is NOT about the intellectuals who remade Asia. That book would have to start with people like Aizawa in Japan, the first Asian nation to be “remade”, but that is one nation and one set of thinkers you will not find in this book. Why? because this book is not about Asia, its history or its renaissance, it (like most of Mr MIshra’s recent work) is about post-liberal virtue signaling. For details, read on..

Introduction: After being told that everyone from Orhan Pamuk to Pakistani Ambassador (and liberal feminist Jinnahist icon) Sherry Rahman is in love with Pankaj Mishra’s new book I started reading it. The first 50 pages set a certain tone. And its not a very encouraging one.

On  page 18 he says: the word Islam, describing the range of Muslim beliefs and  practices, was not used before the 19th century. 

WTF? This is then negated on the very next page by Mishra himself. The only explanation for this little nugget is that Pankaj knows his audience and will miss no opportunity to slide in some politically correct red meat for his them. He knows that sections of the liberal academia believe that Islam is unfairly maligned as monolithic (and monolithically bad) and Pankaj wants to let people know that he has no such incorrect beliefs. It is a noble impulse and it recurs. A lot. I do not need to add that this sentence is complete nonsense. Continue reading “Review: The Intellectuals who Remade Asia (Pankaj Mishra)”

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Review: Arabs. A Three Thousand Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires

Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Arabs . Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Tim Mackintosh Smith is one of those romantic Englishmen who used to go and settle in far off lands and “go native”. He lives in Yemen (apparently still there, even during the civil war) and has been writing about the region and the Arab people for several decades. This book is the culmination of a lifetime of study, a comprehensive history of a people and civilization to which he has become attached and about whom he knows more than most. It is well worth reading.

He begins by making it clear that this is a history of the Arabs, not a history of Islam. The first mention of the word Arab actually occurs in “in 853 BC (and) concerns the employment by the Assyrian state of a transport contractor, a certain Gindibu (‘Locust’), an Arab chieftain who owned vast herds of camels”. This is about 3000 years ago, and the coming of Islam lies about halfway through this history. While we know relatively little of the early (pre-Islamic) history of these people, Mackintosh-Smith wants us to be aware that the Arabs existed long before Islam did. Continue reading “Review: Arabs. A Three Thousand Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires”

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Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism, a book review:

rise and fall, hubris and nemesis, a frequent pattern in human existence ..
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Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche
by Mary Finnigan & Rob Hogendoorn
Jorvik Press, 199 pp. (2019)

The book benefits enormously from having twin authors — Rob Hogendoorn provides invaluable biographical and analytical material, credited to him as it occurs, while Mary Finnegan’s contributions relate, in her own voice, her experiences. Both authors are Buddhist practitioners, both have researched the sexual abuse claims around Sogyal for years — claims which have since been admitted by Rigpa, Sogyal’s teaching organization.

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Mary Finnigan & Rob Hogendoorn’s book title hits two human keynotes. You’ll find them intertwined for crowd-pleasing reasonsd in Game of Thrones:

It’s a question that’s been asked of Game of Thrones as long as the HBO series has been on the air: Why so much sex and violence?

But Tibet? Perfect Tibet of our wishes? Tibet of the revered Dalai Lama? Tibet of the lamas who create intricate mandalas of colored sands — then brush them away in a gesture of impermanence and carry the dust to rivers which wash them out to sea? Shangri-La — in fact not fiction?

There’s a lot that’s wonderful to Tibetan Buddhism, and the better it looks and actually can be, the easier it is for Westerners to fall for the trap of projection — to believe, in this case, in the impeccability of Sogyal Lakar, sometimes titled Rinpoche, or Precious-One.

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It’s unwise in general to speak ill of the recent dead, and Sogyal died in August 2019. Yet his story must be told, because unhappy though it is, the telling can help us avoid the illusion of a supposedly great lama — second only to the Dalai Lama in popularity in the west — who was in fact assaulting his female students sexually on numerous occasions across decades.

That’s the tale Mary Finnigan, herself a practitioner of Dzogchen — Sogyal’s own form of Tibetan Buddhism — details in collaboration with her co-author Rob Hogendoorn in this book.

The accusations against Sogyal, of “sexual, physical and emotional abuse”, led to the Dalai Lama declaring Sogyal “disgraced”. The Charity Commission for England and Wales disqualified two of the Trustees of Sogyal’s  organisation, the Rigpa Fellowship, in the UK because they covered up “knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students”..

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But although sex, violence, and sexual violence are at the heart of the anguish Sogyal inflicted on unwary students, there’s another side to Sogyal’s story that Finnigan and Hogendoorn illuminate — the story of the son of a wealthy family, in contact with a senior Dzogchen lama and taken under his wing, who learned little that might have qualified him to be a teacher of that tradition, yet who managed to wangle his Tibetan nationality into the appearance of a gifted and highly educated lama on his arrival in England.

It’s a fascinating and heart-rending story — heart-rending is the word used by the New York Times in its obit for Sogyal — throwing light on Tibetan Buddhism itself, an astonishing mesh-work of visualizations and compassionate insight; the vicious politics that have long existed within the cloak of lamaism, and which the Dalai Lama has partially uncloaked; an archaic gender differential as power differential; and in general, eastern wisdom meets western credulity.

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Sogyal’s wealthy family connection gives him access to a high lama, Chokyi Lodro, and his presence at Lodro’s side gives him in turn the title of Tulku, which often but not always signifies the reincarnation of some previous high lama, and is always a term of respect.

An authentically scholarly Tibetan meditation master, Dudjom Rinpoche, knows Sogyal has little to no education in the finer points of Tibetan philosophy or meditation, but considers him someone a western student might pick up some hints from — crossing the cultural divide as it were.

Sogyal , moving to the west, is on his way.

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The years pass, just being a Tibetan guru in the west is sexy in the broad sense in which Lamborghinis and orchids are sexy: scholars of religion call it charisma. And when young and impressionable women become devotees of supposed high lamas — and when there are rumors, not without foundation, of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism including tantra, or spiritual-sexual practices, feelings and expectations can get very confused.

The main thrust of Mary and Rob’s book is to tell the rise and fall of Sogyal Lakar, his rise by that wider “sexy” quality we term charisma, his fall by discovery of the abuses of both spirituality and sex he’s inflicted on so many of his students across the years. I won’t go into the details, it’s their story to tell, and they tell it with the probing integrity of journalists as well as the sincerity of practitioners.

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It has to be said that young Western women stood in line to sleep with Trungpa [“a formidably intelligent iconoclast” meditation master] and were usually eager to oblige with Sogyal. They became known as dharma groupies and sex with a Rinpoche became almost as much of a status symbol as plaster casting Mick Jagger.

Oh, Mary can write!

The problem was the abuse at Sogyal’s “feudal” court.

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The Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism teaches something often translated:

form is emptiness, emptiness is form

where emptiness is better understood as <em>void, and void as devoid of self-establishing nature — so that these lines might be rendered:

Form is devoid of self-establishing nature,
absence of self-establishing nature is form.

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Sogyal — no great meditation master, it would seem — has another form of emptiness. Whatever he may have thought, he lacked that compassion which is the fruit of deep meditative practice. And so he was able to enact violence on his students.

But we may witness that emptiness in another arena, that of scholarship.

Early on in Sogyal’s time in the west, Dudjom Rinpoche is giving a talk to a hundred eager students, packed into a room intended for an average London family, and Sogyal is translating for him. Mary was there, sitting next to her then boyfriend John Driver, a linguist gifted in Tibetan, and noted that John was frowning. She writes:

During the first lunch break, John steered me into a cafe down the road. He was quite angry.

“Sogyal is not translating correctly,” he said. “Either he’s interpreting Rinpoche’s words into what he thinks is suitable for Westerners or he doesn’t understand what Dudjom is saying.”

**

It was a foreshadowing. Ever since Walter Evans-Wentz published an early English translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead in 1927, the gold-embossed green cloth volume has been a choice text to set beside the Chinese I Ching in pride of place on one’s desk or shelf. Come 1992, and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying was published, updating the timeless Buddhist classic, personalizing it with some of Sogyal’s own tales, made “accurate” to some degree by the inclusion of questions and answers from distinguished Tibetan masters such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama together with western masters of hospice living and dying such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross — but, but–

As one student who was around at the time put it:

Could anyone who knew Sogyal imagine him being able to quote the German mystical poet Rainer Maria Rilke? Or the Sufi sage, Jalaluddin Rumi?

No, the “editor” who’d have provided those quotes, and much more of the content and form, indeed the very flowing language of the book, would have been Andrew Harvey, Oxford scholar extraordinaire and author of The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi and other works.

So much for a great book — and it was and is great, and Sogyal deserves some, though by no means all, credit for it.

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To sum up:

Sex and violence are paired in the book’s title. The problem with the sex is not that it was sex — Sogyal was no more a monk than Trungpa was, and it was often consensual. The problem was in the tirades, the humiliations, the violence, the abuse — delivered under cover of spiritual authority in violation of trust across a power and gender differential.

The scholarship is, well, Andrew Harvey’s, and Padmasambhava’s, and Kubler Ross’.

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I met Sogyal once. I asked him about the meaning of “skillful means”, and he responded “not entering or leaving a room through the wall, when there’s a door available.” He seemed pleasant enough. Trungpa Rinpoche I befriended at Oxford, and took to visit friends of mine at Prinknash Abbey near Gloucester: later he wrote that the visit had shown him the possibility of living the contemplative life in the west. He opened the first Tibetan monastery in the west shortly thereafter, Samye Ling in Scotland. And Mary is an old friend from hippie days.

As I indicated above, Mary and Rob have a story to tell, and they can tell a story.

Sogyal himself is no longer with us. He has entered, perhaps, the bardo, that liminal space between lives about which The Tibetan Book of the Dead — and to some extent its Sogyal reincarnation, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying — are written.

Go, read.

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Book Review: The Anarchy (William Dalrymple)

A longer version of this review is now up at this link.

A short review from Major Amin. I have not yet read the book, but Dalrymple’s recent books have an increasing tendency to play to the gallery. I would not descirbe this as “irrational hatred” (see review below), it is entirely rational. He knows his audience and frames his books to pander to that audience. He is a good writer and is not ignorant, but his books are spoiled by his urge to frame his story in ways that will appeal to his audience (educated Indians who are happy to hear bad things about the EIC and Westerners who want to appear virtuous). Again, I have not read this book, but his other recent books and interviews all exhibit this tendency..

The Anarchy-Dalrymple– Book Review

The Anarchy-Dalrymple Book Review

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335881689_The_Anarchy-Dalrymple_Book_Review

Firstly English East India Company did not cause anarchy in India as Dalrymple repeatedly tries to prove.

India was in complete anarchy when the British company became a serious player.

Delhi was sacked more than 40 times between 1737 and 1800 by non British forcces, but Dalrymple is blind to this hard fact. All the bad things he sees are only to be found in English East India Company.

His military knowledge is myopic and he constantly distorts military history and uses bits and pieces to prove or disprove as he wills at whim.

As a matter of fact the company restored order in India .First three universities in Indian history were founded at Calcutta ,Madras and Bombay in 1856-57.

Outmoded customs like widow burning , infanticide etc were abolished by the company.

A hereditary class of feudal was created by Lord Cornwallis in 1792 as a result of which political stability was introduced and strengthened in India.

The company had many reformers, philanthropists and utilitarians but Dalrymple in his irrational hatred is blind to all these people.

To Dalrymple all that British East India Company did was bad and he has an extremely jaundiced and twisted vision.

Dalrymple gives no weightage to the fact that British parliament and system prosecuted Clive and Warren Hastings and tried to regulate India.

Above all Dalrymple forgets that without the driving spirit of corporate enterprise of the company the British would never have conquered India.

While personal interest has constantly dominated human conduct in history , whether it was a company or a state , Dalrymple wears coloured glasses and his perception is cloudy as well as confused.

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Chuang-tzu or Zhuangzi, it’s a laughing matter [review]

[ cross-posted at Zenpundit — Zhuangzi, a light-hearted philosopher dancing to his own laughter, illuminated by CC Tsai ]
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Zhuangzi: The Way of Nature
translated by Brian Bruya, illustrated by CC Tsai
Princeton University Press, 2019
US $ 22.95

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You may be acquainted with the yin-yang symbol — or as it’s more properly called, the Tai-chih or Taiji — but here’s CC Tsai‘s version, with dragon:

That’s the style of CC Tsai‘s illustrations, which — rather than Brian Bruya‘s translations — are the featured aspect of this version of the Zhuangzi: it also encapsulates the essence of Zhuangzi‘s thought.

Here’s the comic book version of a very comic work of profound, non-invasive philosophy.

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Zhuangzi is a Taoist, one who would allow the arising and fading away of things in their natural order, with as little thought-commentyary, let alone intervention, as piossible — given the human tendency to go round and round in circles even while sitting still — Laozi‘s Tao Te Ching is the simple and direct exposition of this way of approaching and appreciating life, while Zhuangzi presents the same appreciation in the formm of quizzical tales and (naturally, absent) morals..

Ah. Thus the seagull, Laozi tells Confucius, who came to discuss benevolence and righteousness, doesn’t get white by soaping yup and washing itself, nor does the crow get black by dipping itself in ink: benevolence, similarly, is not a matter of soap and water — it simply arises where it arises.

You get the feeling Laozi wouldn’t mind having left it at the seagulls doing what they do, and likewise with the crows — but Confucius dropped by and asked about benevolence and righteousness, and Laozi responded as was only benevolent and polite..

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My favorite story in all of Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi is the story of Lord Wen-hui’s cook Ting, who taught him the natural way of things while cutting up an ox. In Burton Watson‘s translation:

Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”

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That’s a long-ish quote, but its rollicking good humor will have carried you through it, and I wanted to give you a sense of the Zhuangzi as I have known and loved it — to taste it in comparison with CC Tsai‘s vision / version of the same tale, as represented in a couple of frames from his telling:

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So now we have Burton Watson‘s “the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room” and Brian Bruya‘s “my knife glides in and out between the bone joints, moving as it pleases: the cow suffers no pain and, in the end, doesn’t even know it’s dead.”

Pretty remarkable, either way — but that’s in English, and who knows what contortions a translator must make to move from Chinese into English? Watson‘s Chuang-tsu is closer to Lao-tsu, if you compare the statement of principle to its embodiment in an anecdote:

Ursula Le Guin‘s translation of the Tao Te Ching is even more succinct:

The immaterial enters the impenetrable..

No wonder cook Ting’s vorpal blade went snicker-snack, to borrow a phrase from Lewis Carroll‘s poem, Jabberwocky. And come to think of it, Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Christ Church, Oxford logician, may indeed be the English language’s native equivalent of the Chinese Zhuangzi.

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As I hope I have indicated, Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi, even in translation, is a writer of enormous charm and insight, and CC Tsai‘s presentation marries the conventions of the comic book with classical Chinese artistry to provide an exemplary introduction to one of the world’s great philosopher-humorists.

Delightful. Warmly recommended.

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Book Review: Descent into Chaos

An old review from Major Amin, it remains topical.

Descent into Chaos , Ahmed Rashid, Allen Lane,2008.ISBN No .978-1-846-14175-1

Book Review

Major A.H Amin (Retired)

11 October 2008

Ahmed Rashid acquired fame and became darling of the west when his book on Taliban was published in 2000 or so.Descent into Chaos is another bestseller as far as publishing statistics is concerned.It is a tragedy that the West,guardian of the present worlds intellectual property projects what suits its political and social interests and stifles what it finds “ politically unacceptable”.Seen in this background what Ahmed Rashid writes is acceptable to the west.Possibly because what he says fits hand in glove with western perceptions about how to shape the future.

As normal the book has some factual errors.Some insignificant some not so insignificant and some which not have escaped the sagacity of a known Afghanistan hand like Ahmed Rashid. Continue reading “Book Review: Descent into Chaos”

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Nasim Zehra’s Book on Kargil. Review by Maj Amin

 

Review from Major Amin. 

NASIM ZEHRAS TOO LATE AFTER THE EVENT KARGIL BOOK ANALYSED

Agha H Amin

My first issue with this book is that analysis delayed is analysis lost and Nasim Zehra is guilty of publishing this analysis some 20 years late. Before that she was in the good books of many culprits of Kargil who 20 years later are fired cartridges with near zero nuisance value. More seriously, I take analytical as well as conceptual dispute with her in regarding characters like Lieutenant General Javed Hassan as “ courageous and conscientious”

Continue reading “Nasim Zehra’s Book on Kargil. Review by Maj Amin”

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Pearls of Nonsense About Drones

See It/Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA's Lethal Drone Program by [Fuller, Christopher J.]

See It/Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA’s Lethal Drone Program. by Christopher J. Fuller

Book Review from Major Agha Humayun Amin. 

This is an interesting endeavor by a self-styled expert on drones from the University of Southampton in United Kingdom.

I first read about this great expert on drones in a review by one Mr. Phillip O Warlick II of Air Command and Staff College who elevated the book and its author to prophetic heights.

Having witnessed some drone strikes personally and having extensively travelled in the area affected by the so called US drone program I decided to buy this book which was quite a blunder as I now reflect in retrospect.

Blunder in the sense that I learnt nothing additional about the drone program. Continue reading “Pearls of Nonsense About Drones”

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