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Joke Of The Day

Many of you might have mistakenly believed that Islam was a religion started by Muhammed in 7th century AD. But according to Renowned Orator of Islam and Comparative Religions Dr Zakir Naik it is not so.

”Islam is not the new religion as propagated by westenern protogonists. The Islamic religion is as old as Hinduism and it was very well established in Vedas, Upanishads and also in Puranas, Dr Zakir Naik claimed”. [There are many similarities between Islam and Hinduism: Cleric]

Yeah right!

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Sufism back in Afghanistan

Sufism is a branch of Islamic spirituality in which people practice for inner awakening and enlightenment. This is similar in concept to Buddhism or Raja Yoga practitioners of Hinduism. They also follow a Guru-Sishya culture like Hinduism and use parables for explanations like the Zen. Now with the Taliban gone, Sufism is reappearing in Afghanistan.

Kabul has again become a center for Islamic mysticism, or Sufism, a term used to describe those who are interested in inner knowledge or finding the path toward inner awakening and enlightenment. After the flight of the Taliban, every neighborhood in Afghanistan’s capital now seems to have its own Sufi brotherhood.

In the house, Hamidullah’s seven sons attend to him and his guests. They run the economic life of the tariqat. They also organize the practical details of the ecstatic ceremonies, or “zikrs,” around which the tariqat revolves. The zikr is held every Thursday evening, as well as during big religious feasts.

The zikr consists of the rhythmic, collective recitation of a series of mystical names given to God. This culminates with the modulated howling of the “shahada,” which embodies the main teaching of Islam: “La illaha ill’Allah,” or “There is no god but Allah.”

This is shouted in unison by the dervishes. The combination of their breathing and physical movements sometimes results in a trancelike state.

The Qadiris and the Sohrawardis perform a vocal zikr, while the Naqshbandis are silent. The ritual of the Chishtiya includes the attainment of a trance through the use of music. The zikr of the Chishtiya brotherhood is always done through common singing. [Sufism reemerges in Afghanistan]

All these seem like group Bhajans and the article does not mention anything about personal meditation techniques like Vipassana or Raja Yoga

Footnote: One person in India who converted to Sufism and derives inspiration from it is A R Rahman.

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Meditation and Brain

During meditation most meditators experience a state of deep relaxation. It slows down metabolism and the breathing becomes slow. Buddha found a way to end suffering in a deep meditative state. Ultimately all this activity in the mind has to translate into some chemical reaction in the brain. So it would be interesting to study if any changes happen in the brain based on mental signals, the kind that happens during meditation.

The result was the scans that Prof. Davidson projected in Dharamsala. They compared brain activity in volunteers who were novice meditators to that of Buddhist monks who had spent more than 10,000 hours in meditation. The task was to practice “compassion” meditation, generating a feeling of loving kindness toward all beings.

In a striking difference between novices and monks, the latter showed a dramatic increase in high-frequency brain activity called gamma waves during compassion meditation. Thought to be the signature of neuronal activity that knits together far-flung brain circuits, gamma waves underlie higher mental activity such as consciousness. The novice meditators “showed a slight increase in gamma activity, but most monks showed extremely large increases of a sort that has never been reported before in the neuroscience literature,” says Prof. Davidson, suggesting that mental training can bring the brain to a greater level of consciousness.

Using the brain scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists pinpointed regions that were active during compassion meditation. In almost every case, the enhanced activity was greater in the monks’ brains than the novices’. Activity in the left prefrontal cortex (the seat of positive emotions such as happiness) swamped activity in the right prefrontal (site of negative emotions and anxiety), something never before seen from purely mental activity. A sprawling circuit that switches on at the sight of suffering also showed greater activity in the monks. So did regions responsible for planned movement, as if the monks’ brains were itching to go to the aid of those in distress. [Scans of Monks’ Brains Show Meditation Alters Structure, Functioning]

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Banning the Hijab

When France banned the hijab and other symbols of religious expression from public schools, there was lot of crying out loud about religious freedom of minorities in secular nations etc. But now in Uzbekistan (88% Muslim Nation), a Government run council has decided to ban headscarves in a school.

bq. The Uzbek constitution already bans the wearing of religious dress for those working in the public sector. Gulnora Salokhiddinova, a 14-year-old girl from the village of Margilan, was sent home from her school for wearing a hijab ? but only after all students were gathered at a general assembly to witness her being publicly criticised. [“Al-Jazeera”:http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/56A1F534-E581-485E-A7B5-D66CFE557039.htm]

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The Style of Hinduism Experts

“Sankrant Sanu”:http://www.sulekha.com/memberpages/profile.asp?shortcut=/sankrant_Sanu has “an article”:http://www.beliefnet.com/story/146/story_14684_1.html in BeliefNet on the shoddy scholarship by some _eminent_ scholars, who have discovered that

* In his book on Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed deity of Hindus, Emory University professor Paul Courtright made claims that Ganesha?s trunk represents a limp phallus and the fondness for sweets of this child deity carries ?overtones? of a desire for oral sex.
* University of Chicago professor Wendy Doniger has been quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer calling the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text, ?a dishonest book? that “justifies war.”
* In her article on Hinduism in Encarta, which serves as a mainstream introduction for general audiences, Doniger highlights what she calls ?contradictions? in the Hindu tradition–often using deprecating parenthetical asides, unusual for such an encyclopedia entry.
* In “Kali’s Child,” Rice University professor Jeffrey Kripal portrays Sri Ramakrishna, a much-revered Hindu spiritual leader, as a sexually abused homosexual child-molester. [“BeliefNet”:http://www.beliefnet.com/story/146/story_14684_2.html]

People who question the quality of their research are immediately branded as Hindu Militants, BJP Activists etc and thus taking the discussion away from the quality of scholarship. As Sanu writes

bq. Critical articles, including my own, raise the issue of the quality of scholarship of some of these prominent members of the academy. These articles have pointed out errors, inconsistencies, mistranslations, missing references, suspect theories and interpretative techniques and, in some cases, troubling evidence of outright prejudice displayed by the academicians.

bq. Let’s look at what happened when the Hindu community tried to address Courtright’s work. Serious questions have been raised about the book–such as the non-existence of the references that Coutright cites in some cases, and their clear misconstrual in others.

bq. While Doniger et al make exaggerated claims of violence based on ducking a stray egg, the real issue they have been ducking is that of shoddy scholarship. They charge that their critics do not read books, yet it is these academicians who haven?t bothered to read their critics. Perhaps they don?t need to. It is easier to remain ensconced in an ivory tower and make sure that the airwaves carry only the story of the scholars being ?attacked.? The alternative would be to engage in dialogue with the community who find their traditions unrecognizably mauled at their hands rather than talking past them, as Marty does, by caricaturing all criticism as ?fundamentalist? and ?militant.? This engagement can only help all those that genuinely care to see the academy as a place for the dissemination of knowledge, rather than of one-sided propaganda.[“BeliefNet”:http://www.beliefnet.com/story/146/story_14684_2.html]

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