HINDSIGHT

Hafiz, there is no one in this world

Who is not looking for God.

Everyone is trudging along

With as much dignity, courage

And style as they possibly can.

I discovered Hafiz, a 14th century Persian poet, a few years ago and was astonished by both the beauty and timelessness of his poetry. He was a Sufi mystic and much of his work expressed his longing for union with God. The short segment quoted above is part of a poem titled “I Follow Barefoot.”

I was struck by the ‘modernity’ of the lines – that under the circumstances, we are all of us doing the best that we can. As I look around the world in which we live those circumstances can seem quite dire. We now not only have the power to destroy each other but to destroy the very planet and its creatures.

How many millions of years have passed since man developed his intellect; how many great civilizations has man founded and then destroyed. The power and greed evident in history is the same thirst I see today. Do we never learn?

But in pondering that ever-returning cycle of advancement and destruction I realized that I was perhaps measuring our progress with too short of a stick. If we look at mankind not as an infinite number of individuals or races or civilizations but as an evolving species a different picture can emerge.

Over the millennia we have created beautiful, elegant bodies, developed inquisitive, powerful intellects and formed emotions capable bonding. It is our spiritual dimension that is now under construction and it is the spiritual canon we are now learning.

When we choose power and greed over love and cooperation, we must suffer the consequences of our unwise actions – again and again. In many ways we are still children who know the rules but are too immature or too stubborn to play by them.

I see now that I have been naïve in thinking that the 21st century will be different from the past simply because it is further down the temporal line. I have been naïve to think that the horrors of war of the 20th century would automatically enlighten us. Our sophisticated technology and knowledge base is not enough to make a difference unless our spiritual intelligence keeps pace.

While an individual lifetime may be long enough to transform a man or woman, it is not long enough to accommodate the evolution of a species. Socrates, or was it Plato, said that man always chooses what he thinks will make him happy. It’s easy in hindsight to say we should have done this or done that. But we always do the best that we can at the time.

And mankind today, as a whole, is also doing the best it can – in spite of those immature and selfish individuals who have the power to mislead. The only intelligent response to mankind’s floundering is forgiveness and patience. Meanwhile, it is our personal responsibility to live our own lives as consciously and as conscientiously as we can.

This planet is a living, breathing organism from which all creatures have come. We are the children of Earth just as the rocks and streams and trees and tigers are her children. In fact, all that is Earth is in some way our kin and we are still learning how to be a family.

 

SIDEBAR:

  • While Hafiz was in Iran writing his songs to God in the 14th century, Europe was just emerging from the 900 year period that Petrarch, the founder of humanism, named the Dark Ages.
  • During the 14th Century, the Great Famine (1315-1317) and the Black Death (1347- 1351) killed 30% of the European population.
  • In the field of statecraft, Charles V was King of France and Robert the Bruce of Scotland won the First Scottish War for Independence. The Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 marked the beginning of the end of feudalism in England. Edward III of England started the 100 Years War with France in which Joan of Arc played a starring role.
  • Osman the 1st founded Ottoman Empire; Mongol rule ended in China and the Ming Dynasty began; the Aztecs founded Tenochtitlan in the valley of Mexico.
  • Hafiz’s contemporaries included Dante who was composing The Divine Comedy, Boccaccio who was writing The Decameron and Chaucer who was penning The Canterbury Tales.
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