On Ontology

“Monday Musings” for Monday July 25, 2016
Volume VI. No. 30/290


  St. Augustine of Hippo, Moses Maimonides, Ibn Khaldoun


Stuff of Life: Ontology (How to Be) vs Achievement (How to Do)

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

In the annals of Neolithic man, roughly ten thousand years, there are many brilliant intellectual stars forming the constellation of the milky way. But there are three who outshine all others.

The first is Saint Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 AD. He was a Manichean converted to Catholicism in his early 20s. Augustine was a scholar extraordinaire. Throughout his career he wrote over five million words. His book, “The City of God”, has been translated into some 200 languages. St. Augustine’s writings are fascinating in that he has focused on the phenomenology and epistemology of grace and salvation. Specifically, his writings and sermons focus on how to achieve the nirvana of living a life full of grace (not necessarily a graceful life). There are more than 75 published biographies of St Augustine, the latest of which published in 2005, is by James O’Donnell, Emeritus Provost, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, and my fellow Emeritus Trustee of the National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, NC. Saint Augustine of Hippo’s 13 volume “Confessions” is the definitive archetype of that literary genre emulated by many. Among them, for example, is Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778 AD, the French philosopher and opera critic. Rousseau’s “Les Confessions” is a courageous, if not polemic, account of his life and his intellectual and perceptual architecture of “Natural Philosophy.” Parenthetically, he was the prototype of an eighteen century beatnik! I do not claim to have read all of Augustine’s 5.3 million words, but I have read a good many of them

The second star in this brilliant constellation is Moses Maimonides of Cordoba, 1135-1204 AD, a Jewish colleague, who was an exceptional semiologist and clinical observer. He was an expert in diagnosing and treating infectious diseases, closely following the teachings of Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna), 980-1037 AD, the Persian physician who lived in 978 AD. But Maimonides was more than a physician. He was a theologian, a philosopher, and an expert in Aristotelian rhetoric and forensics. He too wrote more than five million words in his life time. Maimonides, too, has a lot to say about salvation and living a life of grace.

The third equally brilliant star is Ibn Khaldoun of Tunisia (born in1335 and assassinated in Egypt in1406. Surprisingly, Khaldoun also wrote about 5.3 million words, among them the codifying of all the Islamic Laws and Fatwa. It is not surprising to see in his writings the emphasis on salvation and living a life of grace. Ibn Khaldoun was an economist, the father of “trickledown economics”, a policy the late President Reagan adapted in 1981. Incidentally, for music lovers and history buffs, allow me to share with you that Ibn Khaldoun brought music and painting back to the Islamic world. Specifically, in 1360, when he was 25 years old, he started a singing competition in all Islamic nations. It was and continues to be very much like the modern day Oscars and the Grammy Awards. Singers of all walks of life are auditioned and screened to enter Talavat (singing of Quran verses) in an annual competition held in various Islamic countries throughout the world. The spinoff is enormous prestige and national pride. Talavat has been continuously performed, without interruption, since 1360. Last year’s competition took place in Nigeria. The only other musical composition in the world with a record of continuous performance is Handel’s Messiah which has been played every year since 1742. Handel’s years were 1685 to l759. Bach’s years were 1685 to 1750.

The distillation of nearly 16 million words of these three very brilliant stars is this: the road to living a life of grace is to know and to be aware of what is good inside of us. These are God like attributes of love, compassion, integrity, intelligence, altruism, self confidence, self- respect and spirituality, and to know what is good outside of us, and they are life itself, the miracle of family, connectedness, friends, nature, trees, flowers, knowledge, music, the arts, dance and poetry…and to be thankful for them, by giving something back and making a difference in the lives of others. This is the beginning of altruism. These 16 million words teach us how to BE rather how to DO.

America is the most decent, altruistic and generous nation in the world. I celebrate America and am thankful for being an American.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a Raleigh, North Carolina writer and dramaturge.




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