April 14, 2009

Taberlok, The Moon Man

There was a time when my grandfather was telling me the story about “the man in the moon”. In moonlit nights, long after my grandfather died, I sat and merge with the cold wind and studied the geography of the moon’s surface. He called the man Taberlok, a scary name I surmised then. He rode the sky in a magic broom and had a pointed trumpet-like hat. He comes down once in a while my grandfather said, looking out for kids who did bad things and taking them away into some other world, never to return again. I shriveled at the proposition that I gained some distrust against my grandfather. How wicked Tamberlok was I thought for children only wanted to play and laugh all day long.
But Tamerlok was not a one-dimensional freak after all as my grandfather continued. On the other hand, according to the old man, a good kid was given a wild and happy ride across the stars and beyond. And it would be a very enjoying ride my grandfather always reassured me.
As I grew older, I reckoned this tale to be purely made up but somehow I kept staring at the moon when the moments were perfectly at hand. I had hoped very much that my grandfather was the real “man in the moon” in order that he may come and took me a ride across the meteors and along side those speeding comets. If he was the moon man I thought, I would gain the wild and happy ride, because I had been generally good with him, at least as I had believe then.
When he was alive, he would always take me with him whenever he had to go downtown or visit some relations. It was a happy walk always that before we went home, we passed by the store to buy some toys or new garments.
At times I stared at the moon so fervently that at one time or another, I saw a face with a huge grin pasted on it. The moon was sometimes a person, living and breathing. They say when it was at its fullest, ghosts and winged serpents would appear and roam the sky and the earth, but to me, it was another chance to summon the man in the moon.
I called upon the spirit of my grandfather also whenever I pray, after calling out to God. It was extremely difficult for me to memorize those Muslim prayers that after trying my best, I gave up and decided that I should settle with the prayer of the beads which only three words were muttered in Arabic. I conformed then to the idea that every prayer, as long as it was genuine, was good enough. There was this Tasbi that my grandfather had which I kept until now as a remembrance and I used it in my nightly calls to Allah. Since he died, my night calls gained sufficient frequency. I called on Allah and confessed all the things in my heart. The things I did in the day and all the things I did not. I felt so sinful then that not at one instance merely that tears would flow down easily from my eyes. “I am despicable”, I admitted always. I call upon God and sometimes I could interchange Him with my grandfather unknowingly that my tone for my meanderings were indistinctive, irregardless if I was confessing before God or summoning my grandfather.

April 03, 2009

Of Vice and Virtue

Of vices and virtues of men, who am I to enquire upon and much less to elucidate upon? Such aspect of humanity is they say the territory of wise men and sages. Am I a prophet? Am I a messenger?  Not me to answer these queries yet it is The Lord that has called upon me to be the bearer of His messages.


Man is but an imperfect creation of God. This imperfection seems to have been implanted to us as part and parcel of our nature for as we have discussed earlier, no man is perfect.  But to this I say, the imperfection of man is never enough ground to accept that man is a grievous sinner. We err at times but to sin must not be one of our intention or purpose. To err is human but to sin is evil.


We are sinners by nature not because we intend to sin but we have merely erred. For every whole or being, there must always be a margin for error. For every creation, there is always a chance for imperfection.


It is error that precedes every sin that redeems the man, which is to act without evil intent, where there is in fact no instance of sin but that of a mistake. It is not a sin to have done something wrongly without intending to cause harm or without knowing its consequences. There would be error and sin is unlikely in such instance. It is the intent that counts and not the outward actions of men. There are those for example who prays each day and yet in their homes, they are fornicators. On the other hand, there are those who are less pious in the eyes of men but in their secret lives, they are great philanthropists. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean. It is not to defile a man to eat with an unwashed hand, but what defiles a man is the evil that comes from their hearts.[1] 


When sin precedes error (to commit error upon the premise of intent to sin), pure evil permeates. To take something without knowing fully well that it does not belong to us is an error. But to take something fully knowing that it is not ours is sin at its purest form and an error no more and never an excuse for being merely human.


It is not merely an error anymore for a man to cause harm and injury upon others with malice in its mind for is never justified except in defense of person, country or of faith.


The occurrences of evil are never justified by our admittance that man is imperfect by nature for this would encourage the conduct in men where many are prone to sin because they believe that to be human is to sin always. They would go on saying “ I am only human” and this declaration becomes the end-all and be-all justification for their sinful ways. The Lord does not see in grace men who circumvent the divine law. Despite His greatest of mercy, He had punished men before who gravely defied His edicts and judgments most notably the men and women who were caught in the sulfuric fire that descended upon the Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.


Our imperfection merely allows us to err but never to sin. Therefore, it is foolishness to justify our misdeeds by invoking to the Lord that we are sinners because we are only human. That would be undermining the very complex and reliable human processes of determining what is right and what is wrong—the workings of the mind and heart. We underestimate the intelligence of human beings by saying man has no logic and common sense as well as a conscience by admitting that we are sinners by habit, that being left alone upon our own devices, we could not be relied to do good and avoid evil.


On vanity this I say: Vanity is one of the test of us being humans. Vanity is already present in each and every one of us the moment we came out of our mother’s womb and is but part of our human nature. We comb our hair and that is vanity. We iron our clothes and that is vanity. It is vanity that leads us to become better persons, to be more presentable to others so that others may relate to us with ease and not to maintain a close door to every man’s face.


                                                                                                                                                                                Vanity is virtue therefore.


But vanity had oftentimes become a vice to many of us nowadays. It is vanity that leads us to steal so that we could have a better bungalow than our neighbors. So that we could wear designer clothes just as others do for without the Italian leather shoes, we feel nothing in front of our friends. This is destructive vanity, a kind of vanity that takes control of our will and not us taking control over it. As a virtue, vanity propels us to go forward and work harder and strive further, to be more progressive in mentality so that we could be like others who had fully earned things without committing any mischief, and achieving upon pure ability.


If we could use our vanity properly, it could be the wind beneath our wings, allowing us to scale higher grounds and thereon makes us better persons, driving us towards exhausting the possibilities of our potentials, to strive for nothing less than the best we could be.


But when vanity becomes a vice (especially when envy complicates matters), men are often led to commit malice to attain things they do not deserve. For example, if I see a colleague who had become so successful as a salesman. For certain I would admire him and relish at the things he have. In my mind, maybe I could also be a salesman and earn as much as he do. But if I lost my spiritual balance, I would certainly feel so much envy at his very enviable position. And that envy upon the vanity of others and upon my own destructive vanity would lead me to do things otherwise unacceptable to me that at worst I would already steal so that I could attain his level of fortune. I would more or less put him down in other men’s eyes so that he is not that as enviable anymore.


Vanity as a vice brings forth evil in the scale of small and great. It had oftentimes led many of us to gossip against our neighbors and in extreme cases it had led some to kill or injure others. Vanity had led countless personages in history to instigate war among nations great and small, to prove who is the better nation or the nobler race. It had led to the rise of many empires and the destruction of the same and along the way as the blood of thousands of men, women and children poured upon the tarmac of battlefields upon the mere cause of vanity.


                                                                                                                                                                                And so is it the same with envy. Envy is also a virtue but at most times it is a vice.


Envy is a nature of man that could not be set aside. It is already in us at the time of birth. If we use envy as a virtue, it is a wind to our will to go forward and strive in life so that we would have things others have. As a vice, it would lead one to destroy the person of another so that he or she may not have that too enviable position anymore.


Envy is a feeling of want and lack of possession, material or otherwise. It is the nature of man to feel so lacking and wanting the moment he witnesses the greater fortunes of others---in abundance of wealth and comfort. The sight of a friend driving a brand new car would elicit the immediate feeling of envy. But it would foretell the kind of man you are on how such envy affects your person. In some, it would be good envy for they would feel the need to scurry for more and to work harder for if a friend could attain such possession, I could also. In others, it would lead to gossiping and the doing of misdeeds to attain such fortune in the most convenient manner. Like vanity, envy could lead us to do evil things in order to catch up with the rich neighbors, to have that state-of-the-art cell phone or to have that fancy car. Like vanity, envy had led also to many great wars even from the time of emperors and kings, to the woe of their subjects and people trampled to the ground, bludgeoned and sacrificed for the reason of envy.


And so is the feeling of anger. Anger is but a nature of man that is as clear as the sun rising from the horizon. Anger is a nature that is also undeniable in each and every one of us. In fact, it is more undeniable as a nature of man than vanity and envy.


To be angry is not to sin per se and not altogether to cause harm or malice against others. In its barest form, the feeling of anger is a defense mechanism of our personages, to enable us to thwart and purge things and condition that are injurious or unacceptable to us. To have anger is to warn others that my own self is a universe of its own, a universe which I protect and shield from the menace of others. My body is my temple and nobody shall encumber or pierce it against my legitimate will and desires. My body is a kingdom by its own, a whole cosmos which I could at least have control of. When my enemies stage a siege against this kingdom, I have no choice but to defend it and lead it away from harm’s way. In so long as my path is in the way of righteousness, my anger is my shield and when everything fails, it also becomes my sword.


In connection with the feeling of anger, the feeling of hate is at the same time both beneficial and deleterious to us. To hate is not to sin at all for to hate is to be human. But many times we hate for baseless causes or reasons, and that is the kind of hate that leads us to sin. Our hate and anger is never justified if we hate others just because of their faces or the color of their skin.


To be human is to feel the feeling of hate for we are indeed but a creature of emotion, an emotion that is in perpetual motion. We were not created as robots moving upon a set of mechanism.


To know the feeling of love fully is to know the feeling of hate fully. To see light is to come from a point of darkness. To rise above the level is always to start from a lower ground.


Like anger, hate provides us a mechanism in which to thwart all things unacceptable to us. It is a wall that no one should pierce by his or her own mischief. For certain, when evil approaches us, we exhibit hate in order to warn others from not pursuing such evil act, as we turn them away and repel them immediately. When our concept of good and evil is healthy and proper, our hate becomes the most formidable shield against the menace of evil that we could easily maintain the level of goodliness that is acceptable to the Creator above. That another man is capable of hate is a fact we should always assume as we carry on with our relations with others, so that we must always ponder upon our every actions and deeds, not to be hasty in words and shall by no means abuse the persons of others. It is the existence and capacity for hate that no man should treat others without pondering upon each action and deed. A man has hate that is why another man should always take enough caution in relation with him. This may be summed up with the Confucian edict that declares, “Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you”.


Upon the feeling of hate still, while this a part of human nature, existing even at the time of birth, such sentiment is often times manifested today through prejudice against another man’s race or creed, to discriminate merely by reason of race, to explode the fragility of the differences in man. I am white and you are black. I am a Catholic while you are a Muslim. I am English and you are Irish.


The conflict of the white man against the black man in the days of old, is not as we thought diminished by the many changes in our modern society. Of course, there is no more slavery and no more White South Africa, but still the same issues rage amongst that many conflicts still hounds our world today. The civil war between the North and South states in the Americas may be just a part history now but the same element of prejudice exist amidst the recent ethnic wars in the Balkan Regions, in the seeming annihilation of the Kurds in Iraq, the ferocious Middle East conflict between Arabs and the Jews, the segregation of Chinese descents in parts of Southeast Asia, in the war that tears Southern Philippines for decades now, the Islamic movement in Indonesia, and the Irish revolt against the Queen of England.


Through burning crosses and ethnic cleansing, hate continue to permeate in our world today, to pursue volatility in the differences of men instead of allowing these differences to unite men. Even in our everyday surroundings, hate and prejudices abound upon causes entirely self-indulgent. There are the rich who would not touch any poor man’s hands. There are the bourgeoisie looking down on the masses. There are the greedy capitalists abusing the fruits of another man’s labor. There are the huge landowners who give pittance to the hands that cultivate their land. There are the college frat men who sneer at others just because they are nerds. There are the Muslims who hate Christians and Christians who hate Muslims just because of difference of religion or culture. It is groundless hate that results into conflicts, conflicts that are both small and great.


The sentiment of hate is a defense mechanism that we should employ against the abuse and mischief of others but never to perjure others. Hate is often dangerous and volatile that if you multiply the hate of a single individual into the number of the people in a population, it becomes disturbing to the point of harming the world order. The Holocaust happened because the hate and prejudiced of a few men were multiplied into many that such massive loss of lives resulted. When we use the feeling of hate improperly, it is disastrous and destructive.


Then there is pride. Pride is also a nature of man that is already obtaining at the time of birth. And what is to be human if being human is not to have pride. Man is proud by nature and it is not wrong to feel pride. Pride is also a wind beneath our wings, propelling us to become better persons. I have pride so I have to look out upon my own devices and not depend upon other’s beneficence. I would strive upon myself to do things that are expected of me and along the way I would realize that I could do things that I thought not possible before. It is the feeling of pride that harnesses our potentials so that we may feel proud in the eyes of others. To be proud is to feel good. There is no denying a man’s prerogative to feel proud for to be human is also to feel proud. A man needs to feel proud in one way or another in order that he or she may live meaningfully. I also have what you have. I am at the same level with you. I am with you. I am one with you. And therefore embrace me as I embrace you.


Pride frees us up from the grasp of mediocrity and shoves us to find our true worth by leading us to exhaust every potentiality of our capabilities, and thereon allow us to live a full life without regrets. Pride makes us enjoy the true meaning of life, to be a force by our own selves and a force to others, in order to affect the lives of many.


The author who is proud of his writing continues to entertain many through the stories he tell. The painter so proud of his works continues to delight the sight of others. The singer so proud of her swooning voice endears herself to others by her soulful meanderings of love and devotion.


                                                                                                                                                                                But the pride of an individual is at many times false.


False pride would certainly lead us to a life of misdeeds, leading us to commit transgressions that are otherwise unacceptable to us. In order to be proud in the eyes of others, many would steal in order to gain approbation.


It is also false pride to feel more worthy than others on the basis merely of race and creed. I may be a doctor but without the fishermen in the sea, there would be no fish on my table. It is not wealth that makes us prouder than others, but the works we do for others and the society as a whole. What good does it do to be proud in the eyes of man and yet lose the graces of the Creator above?


Pride as a human nature propels us to become better persons, a wind beneath our wings. But false Pride kills and destroys not only others but also our own persons, leading us to steal and kill and to manipulate others so we could be proud in the eyes of other men, a kind of manufactured and artificial pride and not a pride well-deserved. Therefore, we must learn to use our pride in the most balanced manner.


Upon the sentiment of greed, it is also both a virtue and a vice.


Greed is a vice or a misdeed, as we know it today. We despise Mr. Scrooge for his selfishness and for being such a killjoy. We hate the conceptual fat and greedy businessman, full of fatty wealth and profits. We abhor the child friend who does not let us play with his toys.


And yet, if we examine ourselves, the feeling of greed is somewhat instinctive to all of us. We do not usually part with our things as easily. We ponder at length before we give them away. Even the most venerable philanthropist would feel this way because greed is a nature of man that we could not dispel.


Upon the other hand however, the feeling of greed allows us to survive, coming from a point where human has great instincts for survival and self-preservation. It is a virtue to be selfish sometimes. It is a mechanism instituted in our nature as a method of survival. The cave men protected their territories from the infiltrations of strangers in order that they may have the grounds from which to hunt and harvest their food without limitation and therefore protecting themselves from the pangs of hunger and the consequential risk of extinction of their tribe. They would protect these hunting grounds to the hilt, with blood if need be. These were also apparent in the natives of lands like the historical America and the old Philippines where blood stained the grounds in defense of territory, in protection of lands to which they live and allowed to live with unbounded and unguarded mobility. To feel greedy is not at all a vice or sin if it is towards self-preservation. You must not take the food out of our table in order for us to live. You must not take away my work through mischief and self-aggrandizement for you would take away my daily bread.


Nowadays however, greed propels the motives of men who merely look out for their own interest. There are the wealthy capitalists and huge landowners who take advantage upon the fruits of labor of their workers. You may have a thousand acres of land but without the workers to help you create wealth from such land, it is useless to you. You may have discovered the formula for soothing liquor, yet without the hands of the men and women that works in your factory (in order to produce your discovery in mass number) there would be no great wealth or benefit for you. You could implore the help of all your family relations, of all your friends and neighbors and yet you would not get so rich even if you have a thousand acres of land. You may just have to sell it to get compensation but tilling it is of no benefit to you without the help of hundreds of farmworkers.


The need to fill our greed have become insatiable that many today have so much wealth and yet they become the more greedy and continue to pile up wealth which they could not bring to the grave, a wealth so vast that even their great-grandchildren would not be able to expend it. As the biblical verses remind us all, what good does it have for a man to have faith and yet do not have works?


What is faith to a man when there are many sleeping in the coldest part of the streets with barely a garment above their shivering bodies, where some are living in ultimate squalor of the slums and dying in piles of garbage? Can faith alone save him and gain the graces of the Creator? What good does it do a man to have pleasures here on Earth if he shall lose the graces of the Lord? For certain, God would not allow greedy and selfish people into the Kingdom of God. For God is like a father who has many children, some children became wealthy and there are some who languish in poverty. As a father, you feel sorrowed to watch some of your children suffering that you call upon your more fortunate children to give a helping hand to the less fortunate ones, for the suffering of my children is also the suffering of the father.


All in all, it is the acceptance of the fact of the very imperfection of man that should impel us towards “perfection”, to be closer to the ideal self, the righteous self. It is not to be perfect that God wanted us to become, but it is merely to be righteous for in life there are many temptations and traps of morality, and yet the righteous man is fortified by his strong faith in the Creator. His will is good and temptations of life’s excesses are of no match to him or her.


It is undeniable that to be human is to feel anger, hate, greed, and pride. We are also vain by nature. But to be human is not to feel improper anger or hate or to be so greedy that you take advantage upon the labor of others or to be so proud that you encroach upon the persons and possessions of others to assert your false pride---building empires of your own so that you may alone take the richness of lands not of your own roots.


Today, men monopolize businesses so that they may have all the wealth and opportunities merely for their own. Men put down others so that they alone could be employed or be promoted. Landowners fail to share properly the fruits of the land so that they alone become benefited. What does it do to you to have faith and yet others lay naked in the streets? Does faith alone enough to save you and gain the rewards of the Creator? “…and though I have all faith, so that I can remove mountains, and have not loved, I am nothing.”[2]


You could feel proud with humble clothes on your skin. You could be vain if you are merely a farmer or a fisherman that you do not have to steal or kill to further your need for vanity and pride. Vincent Van Gogh died so poor that he died with a messy look on his person and yet no painter could claim more vanity than him. Leo Tolstoy defied his wealthy heritage and decided a life of humility and yet only a few writers are more influential than him.


Life in this material world is but a temporary sojourn or foray for all of us that ultimately, we should realize that the existence of man does not cease with the decay of the flesh. Moments after death takes the breath away from our mortal bodies, our soul would merely slide into another world, to face judgment as to what world you have prepared yourself to be with—either in the blissfulness of the Kingdom of God or in the suffering of an Eternal Fire.


Life is too short many say and none could be truer than this. What does it do to you to gain so many pleasures in this temporary world, even to the extent of committing misdeeds, when after your foray in this world, you gain everlasting sorrow and suffering anyway? Why fret upon the suffering brought about by poverty and a life of want and need when after all, after this sojourn on earth, you would gain everlasting life of peace and harmony in the Kingdom of God that the Creator had prepared for us. “But many who are first shall be last, and the last first.”[3]


To be human is to be imperfect but to be imperfect is not a reason for us to sin, but merely to err.



[1]Matthew 15: Verses 19-20.

[2] I Corinthians 13 : Verse 2.

[3] Matthew 19 : Verse 30.