Ethics and Mysticism

Video – What is Palendag?

What is palendag? What does it literally mean? What is the secret behind its melancholic sound?

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Philosophy of Ethics

Author: Murtada Mutahhari
Translator: Mansoor Limba
Number of Pages: 272
eBook Price: $3/Php150

Table of Contents

Translator’s Foreword
About the Author
Part One
Chapter 1 – What is Ethics?
Chapter 2 – Natural Action and Moral Action
Chapter 3 – Theory of Emotionalism and the Muslim Philosophers’ Theory
Chapter 4 – Conscience Theory
Chapter 5 – Theory of Beauty
Chapter 6 – Theory on Worship
Chapter 7 – Islamic Ethics and Morality
Chapter 8 – Self and Non-self
Chapter 9 – Knowledge of the Self
Chapter 10 – Spiritual and Moral Crises in the Present Age
Part Two
Chapter 11 – The Criterion for Moral Action
Chapter 12 – Communist Morality and Russell’s School of Morality
Chapter 13 – Question of the Self in Ethics

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The Mystical Sound of Maguindanaon ‘Palendag’

MAKATI CITY (19 March) – Though for only a short while, yesterday I was able to drop by the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new social enterprise in Cotabato City, led by no less than the incumbent city mayor, Atty. Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, as the guest of honor.

Beyond its acclaimed feat of “brew and books,” Café Mindanaw is indeed a showcase of Mindanao coffee and foods, books and old photos, traditional music and artifacts. In short, it is a perfect place to nourish one’s body, mind and spirit combined together.

While savoring native cuisine for free, the most refreshing for me was the rare presence of Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan-awardee (National Artist) Bapa Mael as he fascinatingly serenaded the jubilant visitors with the mystical sound of his ‘palendag’.

Also called ‘pulalu’ (among the Manobos and Mansakas), ‘palandag’ (among the Bagobos), ‘pulala’ (in Bukidnon), and ‘lumundeg’ (among the Banuwaens), the ‘palendag’ is a kind of bamboo flute in the Philippines, the largest being used by the Maguindanaons. Being a lip-valley flute, it is regarded by music experts as the toughest of the three bamboo flutes (the others being the ‘tumpong’ and the ‘suling’) to play due to the way one must shape his or her lips against its tip to make a sound. Accordingly, the construction of the mouthpiece is such that the lower end is cut diagonally to accommodate the lower lip and the second diagonal cut is made for the blowing edge.

In the parlance of Maguindanaon and other vernaculars, ‘palendag’ literally means ‘wailing,’ ‘lamentation’ and ‘crying for grief’. It symbolizes the cry of the bamboo stalk (which was turned into a flute) as it was cut off from the bamboo ‘tree’. It symbolizes complaint of separation and longing for return to one’s roots. It represents uneasiness for being driven away from one’s comfort zone and the corollary desire to regain this lost comfort. Simply put, it is a litany of unwanted rupture and yearning for union.

What’s the secret behind the melancholic sound of ‘palendag’?

In Islamic mysticism (‘irfan), this flute’s lamentation is a symbol of the soul’s sorrow at being parted from the Divine Beloved. This is exactly the subject of the first poem – “The Song of the Reed” – of the four-volume Mathnawi-ye Ma‘nawi (Spiritual Couplets), which is the Persian magnum opus of the classical Muslim poet-mystic Mawlana Jalaluddin al-Balkhi, better known in the Western world as ‘Rumi’.

Rumi thus sings:

Listen to this reed, how it makes complaint,
Telling a tale of separation:

“Ever since I was cut off from my reed-bed,
Men and women all have lamented my bewailing.

I want a breast torn asunder by severance,
So that I may fully declare the agony of yearning.

Everyone who is sundered far from his origin
Longs to recapture the time when he was united with it.”

Everyone who is sundered far from his origin
Longs to recapture the time when he was united with it.”

The reed (flute) also reveals that it expresses its sorrow to everyone, and everyone attentively listens to but none is capable enough to understand the secret behind the agony:

“In every company I have poured forth my lament,
I have consorted alike with the miserable and the happy:

Each became my friend out of his own surmise,
None sought to discover the secrets in my heart.

Body is not veiled from soul, nor soul from body,
Yet to no man is leave given to see the soul.”

Body is not veiled from soul, nor soul from body,
Yet to no man is leave given to see the soul.”

For Rumi, the reason behind this failure to perceive is the human beings’ wrong assumption that the reed’s sound is just sound wave, where in fact it is a glowing fire! And one cannot truly perceive fire unless he himself is set ablaze:

This cry of the reed is fire, it is not wind;
Whoever possesses not this fire, let him be naught!

It is the fire of love that has set the reed aflame;
It is the surge of love that bubbles in the wine.

It is the fire of love that has set the reed aflame;
It is the surge of love that bubbles in the wine.

Whoever is not a fish is soon satiated with His water,
He who lacks his daily bread, for him the day is very long.

None that is inexperienced comprehends the state of the ripe,
Wherefore my words must be short, and now, farewell!


Click below to listen to ‘palendag’:

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My Darling’s Anklets

When I was supposed to give a lecture at a Mindanao-wide academic convention last Saturday, the inexorable web of fate brought me instead to a solitary confinement in which the sound of my Darling’s anklets could potentially be heard.

To Him is the praise in every condition.

Perhaps, this decades-long journey leading to the said confinement could be the subject of another book to write… in order for others to draw lessons from…

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On Global Rectificatory Justice

Just last Friday afternoon, I received an invitation to be a Reactor to a Lecture on ‘Global Rectificatory Justice’ to be given today by a distinguished professor. Also enclosed in the invitation was a photocopy of the 22-page chapter 1 (Introduction) of the book which the Lecturer has recently written about this topic.

As the basic idea of ‘rectificatory justice,’ when harm is perpetrated, the victim can claim redress under the moral principle of non-maleficence or ‘do-not-harm’. Building his argument for rectificatory justice around this principle, the author maintains that during the era of colonialism, colonies were harmed in different ways (interventions, war and occupations, slavery and forced labor, genocides and massacres, extermination of domestic religions and cultures, forced replacement of populations, economic dominance and exploitation, and various other kinds of human rights violations), and that individuals and peoples who were victims of these harmful acts have a right to redress.

Since I cannot physically attend the Lecture due to another commitment set earlier, let me take this platform to share my immediate observation:

‘Rectificatory’ justice is yet another ‘cool’ modifier for the word ‘justice,’ the others being ‘distributive,’ ‘compensatory,’ ‘transitional,’ and many more. As you may have no qualms in agreeing, justice is such a concept that whenever you attempt to modify it, you will definitely run the risk of delimiting and restricting its meaning. Even without modifying it, justice which essentially means “putting everything in its proper place,” distributes something, compensates something, provides a transition, and of course, rectifies something. Justice is no justice at all if it does not imply all these things.

On our way to the airport the other week, a Lebanese friend of mine was narrating his visit to selected places in Rwanda where post-conflict ‘transitory justice’ is being enforced. “As you see, we coin the term ‘transitory justice’ whenever the Authority cannot or is not willing to implement justice in the strictest sense of the word,” he told me.

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Retreat as Presence

In all my moments of joy and sadness, You have been always with me. You always bless me, support me and sustain me. I feel blessed although I don’t deserve it because I know my lapses and weaknesses. In unexpected moments, I always feel Your Unseen help. But in times of sadness, I would feel You most. You are there as I would experience the pain, and later on, I would open my heart for acceptance and take lessons from it.

I also believe that in times I don’t remember and am oblivious of You, You are always there, without leaving me even for a single moment. I thank You for giving me the opportunity to thank You, and once again, I do thank You for the opportunity to thank You for the second time. Therefore, I have to thank you infinitely.

In all those years, I cannot desire anything but thanks and gratitude to You — gratitude to You for the successes as well as the opportunity to accept the sad experiences with an open heart.

Right now, my relationship with You is that of reconciliation and continuous returning; a relationship of a lover with his Beloved who is absolutely loving and unconditionally caring.

My concept of You is that of an All-loving, unconditionally compassionate and ever understanding Friend. With this conception of You, I do experience You in all the ups and downs of my life – both in times of remembering and obliviousness, moments of prosperity and adversity, alone or not.

My attention to small ‘beloveds’ seemed to be the hindrances in my pursuit of a greater love with You, my Real and Only Beloved.
Instead of submitting to Your will and winning Your Divine pleasure, time and again, I allow myself to follow the dictates of my whims and caprice. In other words, I allow myself to pay attention to other than You.

Perhaps, I am called to a conversion of the heart so as to be more closely united with You through the ways of Your Word: the declaration of nearness to me, the assurance of Your forgiveness whenever I sincerely ask for it and return to You, and the certainty of Your unmatched understanding and overflowing grace.

As a commitment of faith or personal mission statement, I will try to be a better lover everyday; now better than yesterday; and tomorrow better than today. This I will do by saying thus: ‘Verily, my prayer and my sacrifices, my life and my death are all for the sake of You, my Beloved.”

Give me the goodness in this world. This ‘goodness’ is absolutely known to You and You alone. It can be longevity of life or its opposite. It may be health or the lack of it; it may be wealth or the lack of it; it may be the enormity of friends and well wishers, or the scarcity of the same.

This goodness in this world may be intelligence or its contrast. It may be physical attractiveness or repulsiveness. It may be multitude of offspring or the lack of it.

As such, I desire nothing but what You desire because I certainly know that I may desire for something which is bad for me, and on the contrary, I may dislike something which is good for me.

In short, of a surety, whatever You desire is that which is absolutely desirable for me. Because of this, I thank You endlessly.

I ask for Your love, for understanding Your love, and for always tasting the sweetness of Your love.

Let my words and deeds be imbued with the Divine Love. Let them be a manifestation of sincerity and truthfulness, humility and meekness.

Let every offence I make, if ever I will, be a source of self-realization and feeling of remorse. Let it give me the sense of alienation and distance from You so that I would long to immediately return to Your lap. Let it become a window of enlightenment.

Do not let every good I do turn into a speck of atom of pride and self-confidence in me. Do not let it give me a feeling of self-sufficiency and independence from You. Do not let it transform into a sense of goodness and holiness in me.

As this shortwhile retreat inevitably comes to a close, I thank You for this rare opportunity for a rendezvous. I see it as a journey to continue the longer journey of life.

Just as I look at retreat as a kind of entrance and exit, I also consider concluding a retreat a sort of exit and entrance – exit from dating with one’s Beloved and entrance to the realm of dealing with and giving attention to others while always keeping in one’s mind and heart the all-pervading presence of one’s Beloved.

As I become more aware, once again, of Your Divine Presence, I do totally submit to Your desire and pleasure. So, always bestow me the pleasure of winning Your pleasure.

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Retreat and Silence

Retreat does not only mean withdrawal from the hustle and bustle of daily life; it is an encounter — an encounter with solitude and silence; it is an encounter with your Darling; it is a rendezvous with your Beloved; it is meeting with your Favorite.

Retreat is finding space. It is an exclusive tete-a-tete with you Best Friend.

Silence means the lack of noise and voice. It is the special fast observed by Prophet Zachariah and Blessed Mary. It could be a noisy silence or a voiceless one. It is a definite immunity from oral mistake.

Silence means freedom from the menace of the most dangerous flesh on earth (tongue). It means not only not talking but it is speaking through a voiceless language; it is hearing noises within; it is listening to the voiceless voice within.

Silence means knocking at the door of solitude. It means initially entertaining tumults and agitations of the heart. It is the speaking engagement of the heart.

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Retreat: A Forward Movement

Retreat (i’tikaf) is not to step backward; it is rather a forward movement. It is a motion to desire (iradah). It is to desire for something; at times, it means to desire not to desire. It is a desire for a rendezvous (liqa’); yes, it is a desire for a date – dating with a Familiar Face, nay the Most Familiar One. As a corollary, it is a desire not to desire for anything other than the Most Familiar Countenance.

Retreat is not to go to a remote place; rather, it is a homecoming. It is not a journey to a strange land, but to be a resident dweller. It is not to observe a ritualistic fast of silence, but rather to shout, “Home sweet home!”

Retreat is not a departure, but rather an arrival. It is an arrival to the warm embrace of nature – the chirping of birds, the falling of leaves, the caterwauling of cats, the murmuring of bees, the gentle waves of the sea, and the splotching in a brook.

Hence, when you have no desire yet, then desire for that desire from the Source of desires, as He is indeed most desirous to grant you that desire. And as you approach the doorstep of the House of Returning (tawbah) by walking slowly, be aware that your Beloved is welcoming you running most ardently.

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My Tai Chi Learning

Attended by 30 participants from South and Southeast Asian countries as well as China, the eight-day intensive Asia-China Peace and Leadership Training Workshop organized and hosted by Jinan University’s Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies included not only modules ranging from conflict analysis and mapping, and international negotiation and conflict resolution to intercultural and non-verbal communication and China’s economy and culture, but only a crash course on Tai Chi.

Referring to a philosophy of the forces of yin and yang in relation to its movements, Tai Chi is an internal Chinese martial art 武術 practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. And we are lucky enough to have Master Fan Yanwei as our teacher.

Master Fan is a professor of Physical Education in Jinan University and the chief coach in the Chinese martial arts dancing training base. Since 1984 when the Martial Arts Team of Jinan University was founded, Prof. Fan has made significant progress with her team and gained more than 500 medals (including more than 200 gold medals). She is continuously gaining rich international experience through her visits to many countries such as the United States, Germany, France, Japan, and Singapore, among others.

In the four days of morning reflection and Tai Chi exercises, Master Fan would introduce us to the philosophy of the martial art and the meanings of each movement.

At the end of the crash course, what I learn in Tai Chi is that I know nothing about it. It’s an ocean, nay a universe in itself.

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Lessons from the Tunnel’s Tale


Exactly two days after posting “Retelling Tale of a Long Tunnel,” an FB friend sent me this private message: “Thanks for this post. It’s actually a wakeup call for me. J I’m still stuck up with my research proposal. With all these office works, I doubt if I could finish my master’s. Any piece of advice?”

Late night of the same day, I received another message from a Caribbean friend informing me, thus: “Salam. I’m now in my first semester of PhD. Any tips about writing dissertation?” And then just yesterday, an ‘online’ buddy and an ‘offline’ student at the same time told me as we bumped on each other in a nearby 7-Eleven convenient store: “Sir, we will appreciate if you could share some personal reflections on pursuing graduate studies.”

Read more »

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