I started to write this on the night that is deemed the holiest night of the holiest month of the year by Muslims. My thoughts started to take shape just as the howling winds started to quieten down at the break of dawn following the 27th night of Ramadan. Cyclone Amphan, had arrived and left, the vast majority of havoc it wreaked, once again, bravely breasted by the eastern parts of the Sundarbans. By the time I finish, we will have celebrated the end of the holy month. Some things will have moved, and somethings will stay still, frozen in a paranoia stricken world.
In Sanskrit, the word Prakriti, referred to both Nature and the Goddess. The God in their masculine form was referred to as Purusha, while in their feminine form was referred to as Prakriti. Some traditions in Hinduism say that God himself, was in fact, born off the Goddess. While Purusha came into being, Prakriti merely existed with no beginning and no end. It is said that the temple which houses god represents the womb of the Mother of All-Prakriti. Nature, therefore, has been deified, worshipped either Gauri, in her tamed form, or Kali, in her wild, destructive form. We see this even in tiny localities like our very own Sundarbans, where the blessings of the Bonbibi are sought before one enters the forest. The same forest that lays itself bare on the path of hurricanes and typhoons and cyclones, and readily invites the rampage that would otherwise be unleashed on us.
In the Lakota tradition, Inyan (God) was the first of the powerful spirits. He existed before the beginning. He then created Makha and gave it the Earth spirit, who was a part of Inyan. After Makha came into being, miniature versions of Makha were created. Those miniatures were humans. Inyan, then became sad and lonely. Creating us had rendered him powerless. So, he dissolved into his own creation. His blood became the blue waters and the sky. Now, his blood runs as water across the entire earth, connecting all that he had created, making us all part of a whole.
Water as a basis for things, I suppose, is also subtly emphasised in the Quran as well. For instance, in archaic Arabic, the word "Shari'a" i.e. the source of the Islamic Law, literally translates into "the path to the source of water"; water, that makes up two thirds of what we are and what the earth is. There is more explicit emphasis on nature in the Quran as well, where over 500 of the 6,000 versus of the Quran speak of natural phenomenon. Allah, the Almighty, repeatedly calls on mankind to reflect on His signs, which include all aspects of nature such as trees, mountains, seas, animals, birds, stars, the sun and the moon and our own hearts. Islamic jurisprudence even contains regulations concerning the conservation and allocation of scarce resources.
And if we were to move away from Islamic jurisprudence to more esoteric interpretations of the Quran, entire branches of study have been dedicated to the underlying relationship between cosmology and geometry that is manifested in Islamic patterns we see in mosques, where geometry acts as the vocabulary underpinning the pattern language. The golden mean and other forms of geometric proportions is reflected all across, either represented as micro or macro cosmos, in man, nature, and the universe. Not surprisingly, the study of geometric proportions has its roots in the study of nature and matter. Upon observing the snowflake crystals and honey cells with their hexagonal geometries, the flowers in nature displaying a variety of geometries, plants and other aspects of nature which exhibit the form of spiralling geometry related to Fibonacci proportions based on the golden mean, some have concluded that the golden mean is the "fingerprint" of the Creation. What does this mean, then?
As we slowly move out of the inertia caused by a terrifying, mind-numbing, global pandemic, some of us who have the privilege of a roof over their heads, food on their tables, relief from the excruciating worry of an uncertain livelihood, freedom to avail the gift of time undistracted by constant online meetings, crying children, sick and/or hungry members of the household to take care of, can perhaps, choose to reflect. Monks and sages have voluntarily retreated into isolation for millennia. Angels have come to prophets in caves when they were in seclusion. In the Amazon, intentional isolation continues today in an ascetic practice known as a dieta. As part of an ancient shamanic practice, an initiate goes into the forest for an extended period of time vowing abstinence from earthly delights including salt, sugar, oil, fats, bloody meats, alcohol, sex; any and all sensual stimulation is forsaken for meagre portions of bland food in order to "hollow out the vessel" of the neophyte. Similar to what we are expected to do in a day of fasting during Ramadan. Much like the Hindu and Lakota traditions, the base of these practices lies in the perspective that plants, animals, and even landscapes possess a spirit. Retreat and reflection have been practised as part of spiritual processes across traditions all over the world to bring us to a single realisation.
That we are as interconnected as our stories and our faiths. While the crippling coronavirus has rudely awakened mankind to its own powerlessness, it is perhaps meant to force upon us a different kind of a reckoning. The virus serves as a reminder of our interrelation; a golden example of the butterfly effect—a bat has effectively collapsed the entire world economy. And if we are to prevent future pandemics and reduce the "virus spillover risk" from wildlife to people, which rises as contact increases between them, we have to be cognisant of the outcomes of mindless land use, agriculture, deforestation and wildlife hunting. Because, the fact remains that almost half of the new diseases, including SARS, Ebola, West Nile, Lyme, MERS, can be traced to humans venturing irresponsibly into spaces that are not ours. The virus is a reminder of our part in the web of relationship responsibility to other beings.
In most urban spaces, we have largely lost touch with the subtle sensibility needed to recognise the natural "messengers" of the world. Throughout the month of Ramadan, we spent nights stooped over the Word of God reading translations, working our way through words and meanings to grasp at the message. On the 27th night, when it is claimed the Final Message was revealed, I was contemplating on the following: Maybe, the message is an ongoing one, that we receive from the "natural messengers" of the world. The viruses, bacteria, animals, insects, and plants, each with its own grand purpose intertwined with our own, are natural messengers. Maybe receiving the message starts with entering into an experiential relationship with non-human beings with as much intent and care as we do with the holy books we read.
The question is, how many of us are listening? I wonder as industrial activities in Rampal, Mongla, Taltoli and Kalapara continue at the expense of Nature.
Shagufe Hossain is the founder of Leaping Boundaries, an organization that aims to raise visibility of female madrasah students, and a Dalai Lama Fellow.