Choosing to be Nobody: (Mis)Understanding the Passion for Fame

What is sacred in science is truth; what is sacred in art is beauty. Truth and beauty are impersonal.
Choosing to be Nobody: (Mis)Understanding the Passion for Fame
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Arguably nine tenths of problems we face at personal, familial and social levels are due to wrong view of oneself and one's vocation. We have not been taught or haven't interiorized first shahadah/kalima that teaches us to give up the notion of ordinary self/ego for transpersonal Self. The passion for fame or for self aggrandizement or power or position or bossing in administrative career, awards, rewards and recognition are all aspects of the pathology of self-knowledge. Check again your deepest motivation when you choose your career. If it is for certain glamour for getting a name or becoming somebody instead of discovering nobody we truly are, one is doomed to pursue an illusion. If one is an ambitious man of career, gets readily irritated, maintains a distance from fellow people one meets in the street every day, is ever thinking about promotions, not nice to one's family or ever complains about society that didn't recognize oneself, one must treat the problem within as infection by the virus of ego that apes God. 

Rene Guenon, arguably the greatest metaphysician/sage of the twentieth century and peerless expositor of Sufism whose profound works helped change intellectual trajectory of Western elite and evinced great admiration from the rector of Al-Azhar Shaykh 'Abd al-Halim Mahmoud, lived so anonymously that "an admirer of his writings was dumb founded to discover that the venerable next door neighbor whom she had known for years as Shaykh Abdul Wahid Yahya is in reality Rene Guenon." One can recognize a genuine Sufi Master by noting how averse he/she is to attention.  Genius is anonymous, talent seeks attention. Maughm aptly remarked  that in a century there is only a couple of geniuses, the rest are talent. One of these moral, intellectual, spiritual geniuses was arguably Simone Weil. (Education or mere intelligence don't make a genius – "A village idiot in the literal sense of the word, if he really loves truth, is infinitely superior to Aristotle in his thought" – Weil noted). Her exposition of pathologies of ego or self bragging, often noticed in average minds and writers, should constitute necessary reading for all who beg for praise or recognition in poetry sessions, in TV shows, on the pulpit or any podium. 

Weil notes that "love of truth is always accompanied by humility. Real genius is nothing else but the supernatural virtue of humility in the domain of thought." What Eliot noted for impersonal in art, Simone Weil extends further and states: "Gregorian chant, Romanesque architecture, the Iliad, the invention of geometry were not, for the people through whom they were brought into being and made available to us, occasions for the manifestation of personality. When science, art, literature, and philosophy are simply the manifestation of personality they are on a level where glorious and dazzling achievements are possible, which can make a man's name live for thousands of years. But above this level, far above, separated by an abyss, is the level where the highest things are achieved. These things are essentially anonymous. It is pure chance whether the names of those who reach this level are preserved or lost ; even when they are remembered they have become anonymous. Their personality has vanished…

What is sacred in science is truth; what is sacred in art is beauty. Truth and beauty are impersonal. All this is too obvious." "So far from its being his person, what is sacred in a human being is the impersonal in him."

There are many intelligent professors, doctors, writers, bureaucrats who, due to their pride, don't mind saying or implying to someone "You do not interest me." Weil retorts: "No man can say these words to another without committing a cruelty and offending against justice." "The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like a condemned man who is proud of his large cell"  and "the only way into truth is through one's own annihilation; through dwelling a long time in a state of extreme and total humiliation." This is what karbala demonstrates. The karbala, the equivalent of the Cross and Night of Golgotha in Islam, can't have been less horrendous. One must be stripped of everything, every support, every filler of the Void and then one qualifies for being the prince of martyrs. Read Lear,

Richard Schain has noted, "Kant's characterization of a person's existence as a speck of sand in an infinity of time has been amply confirmed by the scientific study of the physical universe. It is impossible to conceive that an individual in his physical being can have any significance in the cosmos – it is absurdity to imagine otherwise. Thus the persistent attempt of individuals to develop a circle of influence and thus transcend their own miniscule being. The reality is, however, that this effort is not worth the trouble since a hundred, a thousand, a million specks of sand have little more significance than one alone. A sand castle on an endless beach in an infinity of time is soon erased by the elements." "Srinagar and its mountains were there before I was born and would  be there after I go. I am not indispensable to the universe," as was often emphasized by remarkably humble Kashmir University teacher and lover of anonymity G.R. Mir. Since one can be stripped of everything by chance, as Weil elsewhere noted, except the power of saying "I," we are required to offer this "I" to God. And this is true martyrdom.  Who is ready for the enduring the affliction or cross – "shahdat gah-i ulfat" – and join lovers of blessed Ali/Hussain? Islam understood not as a creedal proposition  but an act of surrender of "I"  and witnessing there is no reality but Reality, no "i" but "I," constitutes, according to sages, the kalima of every authentic religious/mystical/wisdom tradition we know and this is indeed the only acceptable religion proclaimed by God to man through His Books/sages.

"Fame enslaves the Gods and Men" is a saying attributed to Heraclitus. "Activity arising from the desire for fame is merely the extension of the animal herd instinct into the more sophisticated life evolved in civilization. There is really no difference in kind between the yearning for professional, political or artistic recognition and a wolf wishing to lead or even just be part of a pack of wolves. (And woe to the lone wolf who does not fit into the pack.)" "The only ambition that can be allowed free rein is to live the life of the mind, the bios theoretikos of antique Greek philosophy. The individual must center his ambitions on his own mind. Ambition focused elsewhere is a road map to a downward direction of life and degradation of the human potential." One's true dignity is measurable by noting how far he has overcome the lust for fame, "the last infirmity of the noble mind."

The author of the Cloud of Unknowing noted: 'There can be no greater sorrow than the truly wise man can feel, than to reflect that "he" is still "someone."  Why? Because everything perishes and what stays is God's Name or divine face (Al-Quran 28:88) – the Being in beings. Be attuned to Being. Surrender. Contemplate. See the other and witness the seer that sees. An artist is transformed by the vision and that is his reward. Fame is not his concern. Fame is an afterglow of the lamp of virtue that doesn't interest the lamp or the virtuous. Authentic individual has no time for himself. In fact we truly live outside ourselves – the very word exist indicates this – as a great phenomenologist would often remind us.   "He only can be free who is no longer anyone." "Our end will have been attained when we are no longer anyone. That must not, of course, be confused with annihilation; the end of all becoming is in being, or rather, the source of being, richer than any being…"

Post Script:  If one is asked to cite an example from literary figures of Kashmir who have interiorized, to an extent, the ideal explicated here, my choice would be, among others, Prof. Sanuallah Mir Parvaz, Prof. Shabir Ahmed Mir (pharmacologist and self taught philosopher) and Muhammad Ahsan Ahsan, (who was for many Mr Dependable or the Dravid of cultural team of North Kashmir) from Hajin – the remarkable command post of literary culture  or one of the few bastions of endangered entity called culture. What has been remarkable about all of them is enviable freedom from oneself or personality or obsession with being So and so. They have shunned publicity and didn't prefer to occupy podium. They are not given to long speeches and imposing their  presence anywhere. About Ahsan Saheb one may specifically remark that he was arguably the most unassuming of our literary figures. He hardly ever talked about himself. He declined to publish his collection of poetry during his life. He didn't court fame or advertisement of his achievements that in any case was impressive by any standard.  Ahsan Saheb indeed understood what so many people including modern poets have not understood about life that "The real world is the one within the walls of homes; the outside world, of careers and politics and money and fame, that was the fake world, where nothing lasted, and things were real only to the extent they harmed or helped people inside their homes." He seems to have interiorized Rilke's mantra "Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything." Ahsan Saheb seems to have taken more seriously than most of his contemporaries, the ideal expressed by Hemmingway thus: "There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self" and W.E.B. Du Bois' point that "The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame."

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