What sense does life make if we will all end up in annihilation? If we all end up dying and be turned to dirt and dust? What sense are all the ideals and values and morals that we are fighting for and living for? What sense is ugliness and beauty when everything is doomed to destruction? What sense is there for living and breathing the air of life when that air will one day cease to flow through our bodies? This reminds me of a poem of Alexander Pope, Essay on Man. The lines read,
Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
It was in those younger years when I used to be very obsessed and fearful of the idea of death. Of a life that is going to end, of efforts and hard work which are going to end and one day, completely erased and forgotten. The idea of being put on a very deep and dark place, where this body that I always take care of, will be disintegrated into the earth, with worms and organisms which will eat my flesh, blood and bones, was truly horrifying. I spent sleepless nights filled with the fear of anticipation of death and what is yet to come…while people around me are fast asleep, my mind is racing with thoughts of fear and confusion.
Aye, but to die, and go we know not where,
To lie in sensible obstruction and to rot,
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod…
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence ruined about
The pendent world…
… ’tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death
– Claudio, from Measure to Measure, Act III, Scene I
Imperious Caesar , dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
Oh, that that earth which kept the world in awe
Should patch a wall to expel the winter’s flow.
– Hamlet, Act V, Scene I
I cannot understand and comprehend what lies beyond, what meaning there is in this life, since I had always given my very best in everything I did, especially when I was younger, as a student. I will copy pages of books into my notebooks like vain attempt to document everything that I learned and read, my notebooks filled boxes and boxes, and I refused to throw a single piece of them. And then I would compose poems at the dusty library of my old school, with recurrent themes about pain and confusion, of a life that hereafter or is going to end. That kind of preoccupation, I channeled by documenting my life in journals and diaries hoping that perhaps, they may serve some sort of purpose, a memento mori, that will outlive me long after I leave this world. That trace of existence that will remind that I once lived in this world.
Countless books, essays, and ideals had been written throughout the history of mankind. God had created many great minds who had contributed a lot to our humanity, to the civilizations of man, in the fields of knowledge and inquiry. Their ideals and their writings, their revolutionary and revivalist attitudes and remarkable talents and abilities had paved way for beautiful changes, those who made their marks and left behind something. And when you read their writings, you can’t help but be amazed by what they were able to contribute. When you read their words, it’s like, they are just in front of you, you can feel the pulse of life, the soul through their words. But they are all only written sentences and paragraphs on paper. They are all gone. Their bodies had mixed with the earth. Their ashes are flying with the wind. Their remains are kept on jars or on mausoleums, graveyards, or even in unknown places. None can ever catch a glimpse of them anymore. But their words go on and one who will read them can still savor the existence and their thoughts that were put onto concrete form when life is still throbbing on them… that is the beauty of the written word… more so, when those knowledge that they imparted on to the next generations of humanity can still be seen and can generate changes.
If we get amazed by the brilliance and intelligence of these people long gone away, how much more inspiration and awe can we feel if all that knowledge is only a tiny drop in the ocean compared to Knowledge of the One Who created everything? That what they were given is nothing comparable to the Knowledge of God? The Almighty Creator of the universe and all that exists?
And to think that the source of all that knowledge and humanly achievement all comes from One ultimate source, then we as human beings, appointed as vicegerents of God to this world, to turn to that knowledge and inspiration, as the guiding light and fountainhead in all the endeavors of life. To harness our minds and abilities towards a common and noble goal. But how can we find it? Knowing that throughout our lives, we are influenced with many kinds of ideologies and great ideas that come from many sources? Consider a name who made a mark in the field of psychology, Carl Gustav Jung:
“We all say that this is the century of the common man, that he is the lord of the earth, the air and the water, and that on his decision hangs the historical fate of the nations. This proud picture of human grandeur is unfortunately an illusion only and is counterbalanced by a reality which is very different. In this reality man is the slave and victim of the machines that have conquered space and time for him; he is intimidated and endangered by the might of the war technique which is supposed to safeguard his physical existence; his spiritual and moral freedom, though guaranteed within limits in one half of his world, is threatened with chaotic disorientation, and in the other half it is abolished altogether. Finally, to add comedy to tragedy, this lord of the elements, this universal arbiter, hugs to his bosom notions which stamp his dignity as worthless and turn his autonomy into an absurdity. All his achievements and possessions do not make him bigger; on the contrary, they diminish him, as the fate of the factory worker under the rule of a ‘just’ distribution of goods clearly demonstrates.”
– C. G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self
Notice that he wrote on the book which is quoted above: man is the slave and victim. For him to understand and formulate that idea of ‘slavery of man’ is a very remarkable observation for his part as an observer of the human condition. The concept of ‘slavery of man’ is a concept to be found in Islam, and it is strongly intertwined in the belief of Tawheed (Oneness of God). Man comes as a slave / servant to God. He was created to worship God. When he deviates from this nature, he becomes a slave to others, or with what his both hands had made, to himself, or to others besides God. Eventually those become a source of his misery, confusion and even destruction. When man deviates from this purpose, the consequences of that deviation will cause damage to himself. Indeed, my father was right when he gave me this analogy: Look at this glass plate. This plate was designed and made to be used as a plate, to hold food and to eat from. What will happen to this plate if I used it as a hammer to pound hard rocks or nails? Of course, the plate is going to be broken into pieces, for it was not made to pound on hard things, but to be used to hold food and to eat from. The same also applies to man.
I could not say I believe— I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God. (In a film, when asked if he believed that God exists.)
– C.G. Jung, an interview
Carl Gustav Jung, was able to detect the great need of his patients to the guidance of God, how in spite of his knowledge of religions, he died ‘without ‘believing’ in God’? How can a doctor heal his patients with a medicine with which he does not have faith or belief in? These are the questions that had baffled me for so long. Knowledge can be a double-edged sword. How it is used and for what it is used, its means and ends determine its value. Of what value are the brilliance of these minds who made history, if they did not believe in the Creator? They may have made their mark. But of what use are their contributions if those are only served for the interests of their fellow human beings, without any regard to the Creator of the universe?
“When a person dies, all action is cut off for him with the exception of three things: charity which continues, knowledge which benefits, or a righteous child who makes supplication for him.”
– Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم
From what the blessed Prophet (peace be upon him) said, there are four things that will continue long after a person leaves this world. That continued existence gives meaning and an extended purpose in this life. These are noble causes, strong enough to drive one to accomplish something, and regard the remaining days of his life in this world with meaning and purpose.
To the one who chooses to look past the misery and confusion that starts to beset when he thinks about what is to happen, or about the universe as a whole. He peels away the fancy wrapping paper and chooses to live life with a purpose. He ignores the corruption that he sees around himself, and chooses to start the change and then takes action to effect the changes that he started and impart them onto others. He reasons, but is not afraid to err. And if he errs, he strives to correct his mistakes and learn lessons from them. He is not born only but to ‘die’. He is born to live a life of mission, with a goal. He starts to ask questions, and then he finds them. He is not consumed with the questions that he seeks answers for. He believes that this life is meant to be spent with hard work, struggle, and perfection of worship.