Wednesday, December 24, 2014

160. Saint Augustine. Part two; Conversion


St Augustine carried on his pursuit for worldly gains and passions till he was 32 years old. He taught the art of public speaking to pupils. He was studying for the law. He was at the top of the school for rhetoric. He was pleased with his superior status and swollen with conceit. He was vain and ambitious and wanted to cut a fine figure in the world. He was eager for fame, wealth and marriage. He consulted imposters, the astrologers (although he refused to consult sorcerers because they sacrificed animals and prayed to spirits). He went to the theatre and watched the spectators enjoy their sadness, by witnessing the tragedy and suffering on the stage (although to his credit, he never liked the gladiatorial shows because of the cruelty).

He described himself: ‘But why do I talk of these things? I lived in misery, like every man whose soul is tethered by the love of things that cannot last and then is agonized to lose them’


 He was a slave of lust. He had a mistress and together they had a son. After she left him and went back to Africa, he found another mistress. He describes those days:


 “I had prayed to You for chastity and said ‘Give me chastity and continence, but not yet’. For I was afraid that You would answer my prayer at once and cure me too soon for the disease of lust, which I wanted satisfied, not quelled”


His dear friend died. He mourned for him. He narrates his grief in eight pages ‘What madness, to love a man as something more than human! What folly to grumble at the lot man has to bear! I lived in a fever, convulsed with tears and sighs that allowed me neither rest nor peace of mind’


He wondered about the powers the astronomers possessed; they could foretell eclipses of sun and moon many years before they happened, and whether the eclipse would be total or partial.


But he still searched for truth. He read many books, including Aristotle’s ‘Ten Categories’. He talked to many learned men but none could satisfy him. He writes:


‘Truth! Truth! How the marrow of my soul within me yearned for it’


And finally, he met a man of God; Bishop Ambrose, in Milan (now called St. Ambrose), who was known throughout the world for his goodness. He writes: ‘Unknown to me, it was You who led me to him, so that I might knowingly be led by him to You. This man of God received me like a father…….My heart warmed to him’.


Although he could not talk to Ambrose face to face, because the Bishop was always busy, but at least, over a period of time, after listening to the sermons of Ambrose he turned towards Catholic teaching. He writes:


‘I was glad too that at last I had been shown how to interpret the Holy Scripture of the law and the prophets in a different light from that which I had previously made them seem absurd’.


He narrates a strange incident. It is not clear whether it was day or night, and whether he was asleep or awake.


‘I entered the depth of my soul…….I saw the Light……….. What I saw was quite different from any light we know on earth…... It shown above my mind……... It was above me because it was the Light itself that made me, and I was below because I was made by it. All who know that Light, and all who know this Light know eternity’.

‘I heard your voice calling from on high, saying “I am the food of full-grown men. Grow and you shall feed on Me. But you shall not change Me into Your own substance, as you do with the food of your body. Instead you shall be changed into Me’”


He now started loving God! But he was amazed that he did not persist in enjoying Him. He began to search the means to gain strength in enjoying God. He found the strength through the mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ.

He derived great joy and comfort in writing of Apostle Paul.


This mote has learnt that if one adopts the path of religion to reach God (which unfortunately I could not) then due to certitude the task becomes easier. St Augustine makes this point:


‘It is one thing to catch sight of the land of peace……and unable to find the way to it, struggle on through trackless wastes where traitors and runaways, captained by their prince,……lie in wait to attack. It is another thing to follow the high road to that land of peace, the way that is defended by the care of the Commander’.


Two mystics (Shahab and the mystic from Bhaun, Pakistan, blogs 65-6,103) have written in their books, that they were never assailed by doubts.


Now, the chain of events which led to the most important event of his life; the episode of the garden.


To be continued.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

159. Saint Augustine. Part One


What impresses a person the most about St. Augustine is his love for God, and his habit of thinking. Both are overawing. He had a towering intellect. He pondered over things which most people take for granted and never give a second thought.


He wrote the book ‘Confessions’ in 397-8 (1), which is considered a classic in spiritual literature. Whatever I am going to write about him is taken from this book (except my personal opinions), and is therefore 100% authentic. We may differ from his opinions, but we cannot doubt his sincerity. He is unduly harsh upon himself throughout his book. Some of the things for which he criticizes himself so severely were sort of trivial. For instance he and his friends stole pears from a neighbor’s tree. He did not even eat them. He was just a boy of sixteen, swept under peer pressure, to make mischief. Nowadays, it won’t be considered stealing but the rowdy behavior of a bunch of teenagers. But look at a sample of what he says, and carries on in four pages:


‘It is certain, O Lord, that theft is punished by Your law………..For no thief can bear that another thief should steal from him, even if he is rich and the other is driven to it by want. Yet I was willing to steal, and steal I did, although I was not compelled by any lack….. a greedy love of doing wrong. For what I stole I already had plenty………and I had no wish to enjoy the thing I coveted by stealing, but enjoy the theft itself and the sin’.


Let us take the first point; his love for God. Every page of this 347 pages book, mentions the magnificence of God and his love for Him. Sometimes dozens of time in a single page. Let me give you an example; book 1:


Who will grant me to rest content in You? To whom shall I turn for the gift of Your coming in my heart and filling it to the brim, so that I may forget all the wrong I have done and embrace You alone, my only source of good?

Why do You mean so much to me? Help me to find words to explain. Why do I mean so much to You, that You should command me to love You? O Lord, my God, tell me why You mean so much to me. Whisper in my heart, I am here to save you( Psalm, 34:3 )………….I shall hear Your voice and make haste to clasp You to myself. Do not hide Your face from me, for I would gladly accept death to see It, for not to see it would be death indeed”.


He is talking to God, all the time, in this book. He is telling Him his problems. He is confessing his sins. He is begging for His mercy. He is thanking Him for all the things that He has given him. He is asking him to show him light on some of the thorniest issues of all times; such as, where does sin come from? What is Time? How to reconcile passages of Bible to the scientific discoveries of his time? How were the prophets able to predict future events? He asks for His help to conquer lust, his major weakness.


The sentence that I highlighted (Why do I mean so much to You, that You should command me to love You?) carries an extremely important point in mysticism. I want to explain what St. Augustine meant.


What he is saying is that God need not have bothered Himself about him. He is just one human amongst billions of humans on planet earth, which is one of perhaps hundred billions planets in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies. It is God’s mercy to note Augustine and help him. God could have kept on doing what He was doing, but He paused and helped Augustine. This mote, only recently, understood God’s mercy, His kindness, in noticing this speck. We, lovers of God, think that our love somehow compels Him, as if He likes flattery (see footnote). Yogananda said as much in his book (2), that God is drawn to the tears and sighs of a lover of God. Nothing compels God; He just takes pity on His devotee. My interpretation is that God likes a true devotee, because he cares about God and not the world and is different from others. Such persons are rare, perhaps one in a thousand. Their desire to reach God is noticed by God. How does God help them?

 He puts, in their heart, love for God. And that is what St Augustine meant.


So the sequence of events is somewhat like this: A person wants to be near God and prays for it repeatedly, God notices it, God takes pity on him, and He puts His love in his heart. The love for God gives great strength to the person, and he travels on the path towards God despite tremendous difficulties and sorrows.


To be continued



­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ (1) ‘Confessions’ by St Augustine, Penguin Edition

(2). ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Yogananda

Footnote. This mote has written approximately 6 blogs on Daata Gunj Bakhash, the 11th century mystic buried in Lahore, Pakistan. I once asked, through somebody, an exalted saint who communicates with spirit of Data Sahib, that did Data Sahib like my blogs. The saint replied that Daata Sahib is beyond these things. Surely then, God is beyond censure or praise.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

158.mother of St Augustine

158. Mother of Saint Augustine



Anybody who has read ‘Confessions’ (1) cannot help being touched by the holiness of Monica, mother of Augustine. We have glimpses of her life and even her actual words as narrated by her son in his book. She died in Italy in 387 A.D. 

Her husband was a man of short temper and unfaithful to her. Wife beating was a common practice during those days but her husband, 

 ‘ respected, loved, and admired her……….many women, whose faces were disfigured by blows from husbands would complain the behavior of their men-folk……They used to remark how surprising it was that they had never heard, or seen any marks to show……….any domestic disagreement……even for one day ’(1) 

Her mother-in-law was at first prejudiced against her, but she won her over by ‘… dutiful attention and constant patience and gentleness’ (1)

Her greatest desire in life was that her son should turn to God. St Augustine writes:


“My mother, your faithful servant, wept to you for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son”.


 Augustine was leading a sinful life and had a concubine.

One night she had a dream:


“She dreamt that she was standing on a wooden ruler, and coming towards her in a halo of splendor she saw a young man who smiled at her in joy, although she herself was sad and quite consumed in grief. He asked her the reason for her grief and her daily tears…………….When she replied that her tears were for the soul I had lost, he asked her to take heart for, if she looked carefully, she would see where she was, there also was I. And when she looked, she saw me standing beside her on the same rule.”

“She always said that by some sense…….she was able to distinguish between Your revelations and her own natural dreams” 

This was a divine revelation. Augustine argued that it meant that she should not despair to be like him, one day.

‘She said at once and without hesitation “No! He did not say ‘Where he is, you are’ but ‘where you are, he is’. 

This dream gave her great reassurance. She never doubted the veracity of the dream. She became certain that her son Augustine would, one day turn to God, although it took close to nine years. Despite the dream,

“ ……….never ceased to pray at all hours and to offer to You the tears she shed for me…………but she gave no rest to her sighs and her tears. Her prayers reached Your presence and yet You still left me to twist and turn in dark”. 

While she was crossing the Mediterranean Sea on a ship, the ship came in danger. 

“ It was she who put heart in the crew…………She promised them that they would make the land in safety, because You had given her this promise in a vision” 

Once she kept on begging a Bishop to talk to Augustine and show him the right path, but the Bishop kept on refusing. He said, 

“Leave him alone and just pray to God for him”.  

But Monica would not stop her entreaties. 

“At last he grew impatient and said ‘Leave me and go in peace. It cannot be that the son of these tears should be lost”. In later years she used to say that she accepted those words as a message from heaven” 

Augustine turned to God by a strange set of events, which I will narrate in detail when I write about him. Her mother was overjoyed to hear it.

Five days before her sickness which resulted in her death, after a long and tiring journey, mother and son started talking about the eternal life of saints. It was a serene and peaceful conversation. They talked of the material things and of heaven and of love of God. Here are some excerpts:


“As the flame of love burned stronger in us and raised us higher towards the eternal God……..up to the heavens themselves, from which the sun and the moon and the stars shine down upon the earth. Higher still we climbed………At length we came to our own souls and passed beyond to that place of everlasting beauty…... There life is that Wisdom by which all things that we know are made………But that Wisdom is not made: it is as it has always been and as it will be forever…………..” 

“And while we spoke of the eternal Wisdom, longing for it and straining for it with the strength of our hearts, for one fleeting instant we reached it and touched it. Then with a sigh …we returned to the sound of our own speech…” 

“And then my mother said: ‘My son. For my part I find no further pleasure in this life……. What I am still to do or why I am here in this world, I do not know, for I have no more to hope for in this world. There was one reason, and one alone, why I wished to remain a little longer in this life and that was to see you a Catholic Christian before I died. God has granted my wish and more ………..What is left for me to do in this world?” 

It was about five days after this that she developed fever and died after nine days of sickness. 

She had expressed her wish to be buried beside her husband in Africa, in a grave which she had provided and prepared herself. Because they had lived in the greatest harmony, she wanted this extra happiness.

But she renounced her wish while she was sick, and told her son as follows: 

 “You will bury your mother here (Ostia)And then, speaking to both of us, she went on, ‘It does not matter where you bury my body. Do not let that worry you! All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord’

She was not frightened at the thought of leaving her body so far from her own country. ‘Nothing is far from God, and I need have no fear that He will not know where to find me when He  comes to raise me to life at the end of the world’


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ (1) ‘Confessions’ by St Augustine, Penguin Edition


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

157. TWO BOOKS ON GOD (part three) 


We had just finished discussing the anthropic principle  

4. Suitable environments. Everyone knows that in order for life to emerge one needs liquid water, oxygen, a source of energy like sun, and a temperature that is not too hot or too cold. Aczel discusses the consequences of the alteration in the four fundamental forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force) and the dark energy. If dark energy (which propels the space and galaxies outwards) was stronger it would not have allowed the galaxies to coalesce, if it were any weaker, gravitational force would have won and collapsed the galaxies. In either case sentient life could not emerge. If gravitational force were any stronger, it would have crushed us. Integrity of atoms could not be maintained if electromagnetic force was different, electrons would not orbit. If electrons won’t orbit, no chemical bonds with other atoms could have formed. No chemicals___no life. If strong nuclear force (which is the most powerful of all forces and due to its attracting power holds the nucleus of an atom together) was any different, quarks would either fly out of nucleus or be crushed. If weak nuclear force had a different value, possibly everything would be radioactive and stars won’t burn____no energy ____ no life. 

Aczel has provided many more examples. He was most impressed by the precise charge of quarks, a fraction of a second after big-bang, and there gathering in triplets, to form protons and neutrons. Why did they gather in triplets and not doubles or quadruplets? An “up” quark has a 2/3 charge, and a “down” quark has a _1/3 charge. The proton has two up quark and one down quark. Thus the charge of a proton is 2/3 + 2/3_ 1/3 = +1, which is exactly equal to the _ 1 charge of the electron (for electron to circle). In neutrons there are two   down quarks and an up quark. The charge is 2/3-1/3-1/3 = 0. It has no charge. 

Isn’t God marvelous! 

I could go on and on. He has mentioned many unsolved riddles. Where did all the antimatter go? What is dark energy? How are the constants of nature derived? (Strength of all electromagnetic interactions is 1/137; gravitational constant is 6.67384 x 10-11)

His ideas of evolution and religion are different from that of this mote. I am not going to discuss them. That is why this is not a review of the book, but just my impressions. These are the impressions of a secular humanist who also loves God very passionately. 

This is a great book. It succeeds in its task of proving that science does not disprove God. This mote has taken the task of proving that there is a God, in my eighteen blogs, 97-114, on the  site: 

Lastly I want to say again which I have said in the previous blog. God cannot be proven by science, religion or philosophy. Ordinary knowledge in the form of scholarly pursuits is useless. God can only be realized by practicing mysticism. The path is open to all creeds, even to a secular humanist like me.

(1) The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
(2) A universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss
(3) The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking

Footnotes: I quote from my blog 101, “If you ask the scientists, what are these galaxies expanding into - outside the outermost limits of the universe? Is there more empty space? The answers will seem either vague, meaningless or couched with silence and irritability.”
“The law of conservation of energy is a fundamental law of nature and has no exceptions. It states “the total energy of an isolated system cannot change—it is said to be conserved over time. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can change form”.  Therefore the total energy pre-Big bang (for this discussion ignore Time. Time started at Big Bang, so truly speaking, there is no before Big Bang ), at Big Bang, 13.8 billion years after Big Bang, and 100 billion years after Big Bang should be the same.                  

But scientists claim that universe started from nothing. According to Guth, universe is the ultimate free lunch. So, what is the truth - tremendous amount of energy or nothing?”

“Now, Hawking is a brilliant scientist. Why would he believe in such a preposterous idea? The reason is that he arrived at a conclusion first and then he went to find the facts (there are no facts before Big Bang) which will support his conclusion. Religion does this backward practice; scientist should not do such cheating. His pre-conceived conclusion was that there is no Creator. Therefore, it follows; the universe must have emerged spontaneously. As Sherlock Holmes famously said “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.