DAWN The Review, Jul 17-Aug2, 2000
Prof Moiz Hussain, commonly associated with the teachings of mind sciences in Pakistan, started teaching yoga in 1974, and currently runs the fourth dimension programme.
In his own words, the fourth dimension is "a certain mental state in which a person is totally unaware of his immediate problems, a state where one transcends time and space. People also experience this state during namaz sometimes.
However, if one goes completely into this state, it isn't possible to remain awake, one would just fall asleep. What we do in our courses is to train people to remain awake in this state and use this creative energy to solve their problems in life."
Some critics of such programmes point out to the very commercial manner in which they are organized and run. "Who isn't commercial?" counters the professor. "When a person goes out to earn his bread and butter he has to think about money too. What has happened is that in eastern cultures teachers would give these secrets to just one chosen disciple or otherwise take it to their graves with them. When I travelled in the west, I observed that it had become so much easier to learn just because there was a price tag to it. I don't want to be a pir - claiming that I am doing all this for the sake of God, and later on ask the people to put in some donation in a box kept in some corner. When people come to me I tell them my fees right away. If I hadn't done that I wouldn't have been able to spread these things so extensively."
It is clear that the training of the psychic powers is quite an industry now. We are definitely not talking about ascetics and dervishes any more. "There are costs to be covered," says the professor. "After a one-day workshop we have a series of follow-up sessions that go on for life. Also, we have repeat sessions for which the participants don't have to pay anything except the logistic expenses. You need to have a lot of resources and an infra-structure...
"The only thing that requires time is ethical and moral training. For that we have follow-up sessions for our participants conducted in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. These sessions are meant to monitor the progress of our participants and to ensure that they remain on the right path."
This leads us to the biggest dilemma, and the point that is most often attacked by the critics. Shouldn't the participants be trained in ethics "first", and only be taught the other powers when (and if!) they are ethically and morally ready? "However desirable it may sound, it just isn't workable," says Professor Moiz. "People need help immediately and what we are doing seems to be the best solution. Times have changed. In the earlier days if you wanted to travel you would travel by a camel and it would take you three months to reach your destination. Life has become faster now, and just as people can't travel by camels anymore, they don't want to wait for other things either."
Responding to the question whether there has been an increase in people's interest in psychic dimensions of life, Professor Moiz answers in the affirmative. "There is what we call a critical mass - when a large number of people in different parts of the world start thinking alike. There is an urgency and need not only for direction in life but also for a satisfaction."
But there could be other venues to seek satisfaction, why mind sciences? He compares it with what happens in medicine when antibiotic stops working as the germs develop immunity against it. "In the same manner, people have tried out other methods for solving their problems and now they want to turn towards this one. Also, what happened was that they tried reiki, acupuncture and other such methods for curing their physical ailments and found that they worked better than allopathic medicine. So they realized that there is more than what meets the eye."
However, in his opinion, that is not the only factor. "I see it as a mental evolution too. There is a massive flow of information coming through media, Internet and everywhere. We can't stretch our time. So the solution is to enhance our mental capability so that we are able to cope with more in less time."
Abbas M. Husain, a linguist and teacher trainer who is equally well-known for his lectures on mysticism, including one on "The five stages of soul," belongs to the diametrically opposite school of thought. He admits that today we can find more people thronging to sessions where mind sciences are taught, but that doesn't signify anything, at least not anything positive. "This is more an expression of the vacuum than a filling in. The true practitioners have always been in the same number then and now. If more people are running for these things today then there is a greater vacuum in them."
But what has contributed to so many people running in this direction? "These are the gifts of poverty and wealth. In both extremes we tend to seek a diversion. When things get better you look for more toys. It's not that more people are responding to the spiritual call. This is what we may call 'a spiritual candy store'."
While he strongly opposes the idea that these methods have anything to do with spiritual progress, he accepts with caution that they can sometimes be used for healing. "It's true that sometimes these methods are useful for healing," he says. But the ethics of emergency cannot decide the ethics of living. We need to differentiate between a need to be healed and a response to a spiritual calling. The 'real thing' calls for an absolute focus and commitment. In the words of Bonhoeffer, 'Grace demands all of a man.' Masters of all religions have also said that in the 'eleventh hour', the possibilities of the masses for attaining spiritual elevation aren't very bright, but the possibilities of the individual are endless.
Naveed Bushra Usman, a meditation trainer coming from a slightly different milieu than Prof Moiz takes a stand that seems to be a bridge between the new mind sciences school and its staunch opponents like Abbas Husain. "I looked into different religions to see their practices of meditation, and I must admit that I have borrowed a bit from each. But strictly speaking I have taken most from the Islamic sufism. However, the method by which I make the mind stay still is based on scientific research. I discovered that there is a certain scientific method where mind can remain still. Meditation, as we know, is about taking the brain to a very low frequency where there is no thought. That stillness is also an attribute of God - God is perfect, he is perfect harmony, perfect beauty and perfect stillness."
The ultimate achievement, to Bushra Usman, is spiritual. "One becomes a mirror of divine attributes. The 'jamali' names out the 99 names of God make you mirror of divine beauty if you meditate on them. The 'jalali' names are different, which need to be used sparingly and strictly under proper guidance. They bring strength and the ability to forgive, but experimenting with them without proper guidance is not advisable."
Naveed Bushra Osman agrees that there is a critical mass of people getting interested in psychic energies ("Oh, Yes,"), but she also speaks of it as a vacuum rather than an evolution of the mind. "The reasons are turmoil, stress, chaos - I have students from junior school coming to me who were suffering from conditions arising from stress! People are turning to these methods now because things we thought could provide us some solace have failed to some extent. "
She, however, gives a word of caution too. "A lot of fake gurus have also emerged. I have been a witness to many casualties of such fake gurus." But how does one differentiate between a fake guru and genuine one? "It is a very pertinent question," she says with a laugh, and then takes a while before answering it. "I believe that people can must keep their eyes open," she adds slowly. "Their external and internal eyes! They should judge their healers. What happens is that those who are needy tend to believe that any healer can be easily tricked by anyone who is clever with words. We are also a very "suggestible" nation... What one should really do is seek guidance from within, from the divine within yourself. Everyone has a divine presence within."
It seems as if the "critical mass" is beginning to have a spillover effect on the other fields of life too. For one thing, we are hearing about healing through meditation in the NGO sector. On the website of Ifsha, one of the major NGOs in India working against sexual abuse and violence, we see a major section focusing on healing through meditation and invoking the inner core of one's existence. "IFSHA arrived at the concept of healing," the announcement reads, "through a long and complex journey of tackling different forms of violence and trauma until we discovered a confluence in all healing systems. Meditation is the common meeting point for men, women, and children, irrespective of the nature of their pain and suffering. And within the stillness of the inner world, communion with one's spirit gives birth to composite healing. Meditation helps replace anger, fear and anxiety with the wholesome energy of love. A love which strengthens our entire being, and frees us from pain and suffering."
In Pakistan too, we have NGOs showing visible interest in exploring the unconventional methods for problem solving. Shazia Premjee, working for one such NGO but speaking in her personal capacity rather than on behalf of her organization, says, "I do not claim to know what works and does not work in psychiatry, my learning and knowledge comes from developing a behavioural change intervention in my NGO to promote positive sexual health and well being among adolescents in Karachi low-income communities. What we, as an organization, are interested in is what is it that moves people to change behaviour?"
But why depart from the more "scientifically tested" methods of counselling and psychiatry? "I feel that 'mainstream' behaviour-change interventions for improving health and well-being of individuals or communities have been limited in their effectiveness," says Shazia Premjee. "Giving knowledge and changing attitudes in a didactic manner does not seem to have the lasting effects that effective behaviour-change campaigns strive for. Having said that, I feel that there is something deeper in people which moves them. Some refer to it as a critical conscious. Some may call it psychic energy/spirituality, but as someone interested in improving the well-being of society, this is something that needs to be further explored so that we can frame a better understanding on developing interventions such as healing, which inspire people to change. As for having adapted these methods, I think it's too soon to say that we have launched a campaign for healing, but it is definitely something that we are exploring for the future."
What about the entertainment business, the one industry that never fails to catch up on any current fad? Quest, the first international pop album to come out of India, features a dominant mood of occult in its preview available on the singer and video director Anaida's home page. For one thing, there is a song titled 'A good day to die,' which is in the Red Indian tradition of celebrating death rather than life. Then there are those images from the new version of the video of the title track, depicting Anaida on a crucifix wearing a crown of barbed wire, and one even as an angel all set to take off. Is it a new dimension her work is taking due to the general rise in people's interest in psychic/spiritual things? "No, for me nothing has changed, I have been living in the same dimension for the longest time with the same awareness, trying to improve it everyday but the base is the same. I don't know if people are leaning more towards spiritualism now - I know that in the west it seems so but in the places where you most expect it, everyone is going backwards. Music or any form of art according to me IS spiritual. The songs that will appeal to your soul are the ones generated from the depths of another soul. Same goes with other forms of art. Yes, 'Good day to die' is inspired by the native Americans' view of celebrating death. By no way I mean to sound morbid but at a spiritual level, if you have lived your life like you should have, attained higher levels with your soul and generally learned the lesson you were sent on earth to learn in the first place, wouldn't you be more than glad to meet the Creator?"
Anaida doesn't think that the so-called critical mass of people turning towards spirituality has improved their aesthetics. She doesn't see people as becoming more receptive to art, music and drama that explores life beyond our five senses? "No, in fact, I think people are accepting more and more shallow stuff. I think this whole generation of trying to make ugly seem cool, to explain lack of beauty and class (I mean in art form and not looks) by trying to make it sound hip, is all stupid. It has brought the standards down considerably. Just look back, how many evergreen songs can you think of from the past. And how many of today's art and music can hold itself and sustain that long? People have always been fascinated by the world beyond, that will continue. But the sad part is that in our struggle to be more modern we are losing pieces of ourselves along the way..."
Leaders from various walks of life share their views about the growing interest in the mind sciences