Tag Archives: Ibn Khaldoun

On a Few Reflections and Observations

“Monday Musings” for Monday October 27, 2014

Volume IV, No. 43/143

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Potpourri of Reflections and Observations

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

The Birth of Existentialism

I am delighted to know that many of our readers are pleased with our occasional philosophical discourse. After all, philosophy means literally “love of wisdom.”  Wisdom is not information, it is not knowledge; yet it is both of those, and more. Also, it is gratifying to receive readers’ mail who ask for more discussion of people who have made a difference in this world, like Soren Kierkegaard, born 1813, died 1855, a brilliant sarcastic, humorous and incredibly prolific thinker theologian/philosopher. He, along with Martin Heidegger (1889-1976—I once went to Berlin to meet and talk with him), Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1950) and Albert Camus (1913-1960) are the four horses of Existentialism, all of whom give credit to St Augustine of Hippo for their start and cutting their teeth in understanding the basic premises and principles of existentialism. Soren used to write books pseudonymously, and then critique them harshly, calling the writer of the books, meaning himself, a no good “oeuf”…

A writer asked about Manicheans. This reader was stimulated by my review of James O’Donnell’s book on the life of Saint Augustine. Yes, Saint Augustine of Hippo for 14 years of his life, between ages of 18 (372) and 32 (386, the year he converted to Christianity) was a Manichean. Augustine was baptized by Bishop Ambrose of Milan on Easter morning 387.

Mani was a Persian. He was born and raised near today’s Basra which was a part of the Persian Empire. The religion is heavily based on Zoroastrianism and Zoroaster’s (Zaratustra) dualistic approach to heaven and earth, good and evil, body and soul… He is purported to have gone to China and converted Turan, Shah of China, (Puccinin’s Turandot which is really Turan-dokht, the daughter of Turan) and is based on this Emperor’s daughter.  Manicheans were sophisticated and learned. They often ridiculed Christians and their ”faith.” Manichians were highly educated, most master-rhetors, engaged in the art of persuasion, like today’s Law professors. They believed in dualism, rationalism and materialism. Augustine’s corpus of work contains19 volumes refuting Manicheans, Donatists, Palagirists and Arians. It makes for stimulating reading and ultimately giving reader a roadmap to true wisdom.

AM

Greed/Financial Dysfunction

The market has rebounded from five years ago. S&P is back to new highs. The stock market is volatile but not in a doldrums. Several years ago, when depression and unemployment engulfed our nation, I wrote that I needed help to understand a few things about our financial system. Here is what I wrote: “While stocks have lost about 50% of their value in one year, and many 401 K for the middle class American workers have been wiped out, we see the salaries and compensations of the CEOs who have caused this chaos have gone up. Let me quote some of these salaries from published statistics, US Department of Labor: Lloyd Blankfein, Chair and CEO, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. received $68.0 million dollars in compensation, and when the company failed the federal government pumped in $10 billion dollars to rescue it.  Similarly, James Dimon, Chair and CEO, J. P. Morgan Chase & Co., $30.4 million in compensation and $25 billion government bailout; Kenneth Lewis, Chair, CEO, Bank of America Corp., $16.4 million, $25 billion; John Mack, Chair & CEO, Morgan Stanley, $16 million, $10 billion; Vikram Pandit, CEO Citigroup, Inc, $5.7, with $25 billion bailout;  William McGuire, Chair and CEO, UnitedHealth $40.7 million; and another Merrill Lynch high flyer, Peter Kraus, head of strategy, $25 million, just to name a few.”

What I still don’t understand and would like for someone to explain to me is how could these people run their companies to the ground, cause millions of their shareholders to have their retirements wiped out and yet be rewarded and the government, without shame, bailed them out?  Please help. Today, five years later I do not believe any of these individual have been reprimanded.

AM

Editor, Psychiatric News:

The August 16 presidential column, Psychiatric News, interested me immensely. In her column, Dr Stotland made a point that the meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatry in London was modest, “using the meeting facilities of the inexpensive venue of the Imperial College has enabled the College to experiment with a meeting without pharmaceutical support…” She stated that “The meeting briefcases carried only the seal of the college…”

For decades, I have criticized the unholy and ethically unacceptable marriage of organized medicine and drug manufacturers. The unwelcome and greed-laden alliance of healthcare and pharmaceutical industries is an abomination. In recent months, we have learned that the scientists, writing papers in leading medical journals, have been sponsored by the drug makers. The Vioxx/Merck mess is a good example. Ghost authorship and ghostwriting occur even in our most trusted peer reviewed journals.

The late President Eisenhower, once in the late 1950s warned against the military-industrial complex. Now, the nation must be warned against the medical-pharmaceutical complex. It is ominous. Organized medicine and APA must find a way to fund their needs through Foundation moneys and not through revenues of advertisements by drug companies.  Also, physicians ought to buy their own lunches, their own pens and their own scratch pads. And they should not get their “medical education” from drug representatives but from rigorous engagement in continued medical education. We must cleanse the holy temple of medicine from these corrupt practices. Maybe Dr. Stotland will start us off on this much needed pilgrimage.

Sincerely,

Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

The Gift of Pistachio and a Pinch of Sufism

This is a personal note.  I know that it should be handwritten. But legibility becomes a problem.  I am writing to tell you how touched I was to receive your thoughtful card with your inserted personal note bearing syntactical elegance and rabbinical wisdom (Rabbi from Aramaic and later Hebrew roots means ‘My teacher’.) Also thank you for the gift of pistachios, every individual kernel depicting the Hafez poem” Pesteh Khandan.” Pistachios were known to Sumerians. There are records in cuneiform (spike or Mikhi) alphabet what scholars have interpreted to be pistachio associated with green color. Sanskrit word PESTEH is the etymology of our word pistachio. During Achamenid Dynasty, in Persia, Shiraz became the center for growing groves of pistachio trees. And in the pre-Islamic world, they used to ferment and make a wine from pistachio. There was and continues to be to this day, one species of pistachio that actually opens in the pod/shell on the tree before they are picked.  They are called “laughing or smiling pistachios.” The Shiraz poets such as Mosleh-Din Saadi (1210-1290) and Khajeh Shams-Din-Hafez (1337-1406) have romanced this species of pistachio as the smiling or laughing (KHANDAN) fruit. As one can see, a cracked pistachio looks like a smiling face.

Saadi and Hafez were Sufis. Sufi philosophy has given birth to the discourse and science of “ontology.”  For the last 1200 years, it has evolved the beatific message “to be in the world but not of the world.”  Sufism invites, encourages, and teaches the art and skill of “being” as a contradistinction of “doing.”  We need to set aside time for introspection and reflection…All one’s “doings” should be in the ultimate service of “being” and “becoming”….

Rumi, one of the most eloquent and influential Masters of Sufi in relation to ontology said: “Blessed are those who are in a state of constant worship….for the very act of worship is the essence is self-awareness and self-knowledge…”.  I must assert that Rumi is very much exploited by literary charlatans and marketers who pose as Rumi authorities, yet do not know a word of Farsi language!)

May your faces like Hafez’ Pesteh be Khandan, smiling and happy forever.

AM

Etymology of the Word “Religion”

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and John Calvin (1509-1564), two disparate theologians of the 13th and 16th centuries, along with Persian physician Abu Ali Sina Avicenna (980-1037), the famed medical diagnostician and clinician of the eleventh century have written independent treatises on the “religion.”  Here is a summary of their work on the topic:

The etymology of the word “religion”, re-ligion”; re: again, ligating: binding, connecting (surgeons ligate veins and tie up arteries); thus, re-connecting, re-binding, re-attaching…what to what is the question.  Perhaps to the beatific vision of eternity and transcendence of love…

AM

A Euro for Asia

The wire services just unloaded a very heartwarming and personal story: Robert Mundel, Reagan’s Chairman of Economic advisors, father of trickle down Reageanonomics (Ibn Khaldoun ‘1332-1406’ was the real father, Robert Mundel was a promulgator!), but he was the true father of the “Euro”, the 1999 Nobel Laureate in Economics, is now back in the news. He wants to foster or father the equivalent currency of Euro for Asia. The name has not been conceived. The Sultan of Abu Dhabi, owner of the multi-trillion dollar “Sovereign Fund” which has been rescuing American Banks and Financial institutions (including Bank of America, UBS, CitiBank, and Washington Mutual) is behind the effort.

A personal note: We had the privilege of having lunch with Dr. Mundel in his Palladian villa in Italy on Friday June 25, 1992. It was a memorable occasion.

AM
Randy Pausch’s name was being considered by some members of the National Humanities Center Nominating Committee for membership to the Board before we earned that he was dying. I was fortunate to be in the audience when he gave his “Last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon. It was a fascinating experience. He was a picture of health. He did summersaults and push-ups during his lecture, and at the conclusion of his speech, carried his wife off the stage. It is very sad that he died, yet, it is glorious the way he lived and the legacy he left for us. I am reviewing his book which will appear in a future issue of WCP.

AM

The Dope on Cannabis

In response to a reader’s question about cannabis and alcohol:

The scholarship on cannabis and data driven research on this controversial drug show that cannabis may and does affect not only the higher cortical structures but also the subcortical parts of the brain, what is known as the Limbic system, causing not only bipolar disorder (radical mood swings and irrational and impulsive behaviour), but actual psychosis. Alcohol has the same adverse effects on the brain through different pathways. So, I really condemn both. I am absolutely against legalizing cannabis. I would be happy to give you reference to these studies. A drunken parent should not hypocritically admonish a pothead child. It does not work. This is one of the astonishing teachings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, the ultimate role model to humankind. Although he was addicted to sex, after his conversion to Christianity and soon after becoming a Bishop, he had enough discipline to stop sex altogether. The same, I condemn tobacco and its ill effects on the body in general. However, I guess the reason tobacco is not banned is that it does NOT cause bipolar disorder and psychosis.

The ultimate answer to these problems is education which starts in utero. Mamas must adopt Augustinian discipline to love themselves and their fetus(es), stop tobacco, alcohol and over-eating while they are pregnant, and continue to be role models to their children. Greed spoils capitalism and private enterprise. Making money out of harming others by selling, cannabis, tobacco, alcohol,  and other harmful substances is immoral.

AM

Hypocrisy and Greed of University Leaders

I am opposed to lowering drinking age in college as many, including 100 college and university leaders, promote. While prohibition is often counterproductive, I believe the answer to binging, abuse and unreasonable use of alcohol is education. The answer also lies in curtailing greed and hunger for money. The University leaders ought to cut out advertising of beer from all TV sports. It is sheer greed to have alcohol products sponsoring sports events, and it is sheer hypocrisy for the university leaders to tolerate this practice because it produces revenue for their institutions. Ban alcohol ads from all television sports.

AM

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Forgiveness

“Monday Musings” for Monday February 3, 2014

Volume IV. No. 5/161

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FORGIVENESS

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

About a year ago, a 77 year old man came to see me about gradual onset of a devastating depression. Harry (not his real name), always a positive, energetic and productive person, had lost his will to live. He told me that he was experiencing a gnawing sensation at the pit of his stomach. He could not sleep, had lost his appetite causing him to lose a considerable amount of weight. His wife confided in me that she was afraid that “Harry would end it all.” She had carefully removed all firearms from home. This, in itself, caused further escalation of Harry’s anger and irritation. We evaluated Harry and ran appropriate laboratory tests to rule out myriad of physical causes for his depression, including endocrinopathies such as hyperparathyroidism often caused by a parathyroid adenoma, a benign cancer of the parathyroid gland, and others. By the way, this was the cause of the  late US Senator from North Carolina, John East’s depression and suicide, a perfectly curable form of depression by surgery).

In the course psychotherapy, exploring his past and family history, we came across a demon. He casually mentioned that he has not seen eye to eye with one of his sons. As a matter of fact, he became angry that we were spending so much time on that unimportant lost relationship. In the course of therapy, the issue of forgiveness was bought up and explored. Harry took the matter seriously. He had 40 years worth of anger for his estranged son. Finally, as our work progressed, he chose to approach his son. The miraculous process of forgiveness rapidly assisted his total recovery. He became well and was terminated, and his medications were gradually discontinued. In the Christmas card I received from him and his wife, they were thankful to discover the powerful effect of forgiveness. Harry is back enjoying life, being positive, energetic and productive. This process prompted me to write the following essay on “Forgiveness.”

Some Thoughts and Reflections on Forgiveness:

In the ten thousand year annals of Neolithic man, the issue of forgiveness vs. revenge occupies considerable space.  Since Sumerians’ earliest recorded history, the contributions of three stars in the intellectual constellation guide us with their luminosity and brilliance. They are St. Augustin of Hippo, born in 354, the author of The Book of God and Confessions; Moses Maimonides of Cordoba, born in 1137, author of Talmudic Laws; and Ibn Khaldoun, who penned the definitive Islamic Cannons in 1363 (born 1332, died 1405). All three spoke of grace, stoicism, altruism and forgiveness in the most compelling and persuasive manner, throughout their work. Some believe that the Lord’s Prayer, especially the passage: “Forgive us for our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”, a staple of Christianity, and the only actual piece of literature ever authored by Jesus of Nazareth, is a hand me down from Zoroaster, the 500 BC Persian prophet and author of Avesta, and Abraham. It has been vastly copied by other major religions of the world, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The celestial books of Torah, the Bible and the Holy Quran, each have hundreds of references to the issue of forgiveness and peace. A celebrated Persian poet and Sufi, Sheikh Mosleh-e-Din Saadi Shirazi, born 1210-1290, in his book, Gulestan-e-Saadi, refers to this subject with the most tender words:   “Forgiveness heals, comforts, transforms, preserves, remembers, promises, buries the dead and raises them once again.  Forgiveness refuses to be quiescent until they have exhausted all possibilities.” 

Psychologically, forgiveness is altruistic and selfless. Forgiveness does not mix with self-centeredness and narcissism. It takes discipline and selfness to be able to forgive. God created us with the gift of forgiveness, compromise and peace. With recent stunning advances in biochemistry and neuroendocrinology, we have come to know that forgiveness plays a major role in preserving the function and the architecture of our brain, our hearts and our souls. Brain research, in the last half of the twentieth century, clearly demonstrates that feelings of enmity, adversity and anxiety produce undesirable and harmful hormones, specifically beta carbolines and the bad kind of catecholamines that increase blood pressure and heart rate; decreases immune response, and lowers the number of precious T-cells that fight infections. On the other hand, data driven seminal articles in peer reviewed medical magazines such as Archives of Internal Medicine, Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine demonstrate that forgiveness, peace and a sense of spirituality decrease blood pressure, sharpens body’s immune response and lengthens life span.

One of the most overworked words in English lexicon is the word “communication”. It has almost lost its meaning and effectiveness. The tools necessary for achieving the nirvana of forgiveness are understanding and empathy, both of which are achieved through communication, talking, sharing feelings and ideas. Forgiveness is not achieved through virtual reality. Two people must see each other, talk to each other, and possibly touch each other before forgiveness takes place. One must have not only a sense of sympathy for the other person’s pain and discomfort, but empathy, to feel the pain that the other person is experiencing. There are many alienated children, parents, and in laws who fall prey to this circuitous labyrinth of hatred, intolerance and “I will not say a word to that person as long as I live” diatribe. To hate, to resent, and to avoid wastes enormous emotional energy aimlessly directed at draining, depleting and destroying.

The evil acts of September 11 have posed an unprecedented ethical challenge. How do we, as a decent and civilized nation, respond?  These events have clearly demonstrated that the answer to world ills does not come solely through advanced technology and inflated stock market values. America is the most decent and generous nation on earth. The supremacy of the rule of law, and not of kings, Shahs and Ayatollahs, guaranteeing every American the dignity of individual human right, is unprecedented.

However, In the 1950s, with lingering cold war and the age of Sputnik, America accelerated programs of science, math, and technology. While these advances are essential, we are just beginning to learn that the ultimate answer to the world’s problems lies with better understanding of ourselves and those who hate us. In this terror driven world, we must resolve to learn more about ourselves through introspection, reflection and self- examination. As an act of thanksgiving, it might be a good idea to dedicate ourselves and a portion of our time to be more prayerful, more reflective, more knowledgeable, and more altruistic. Also, it is a good time to go see and call on those family members and friends whom we have long resented. Let’s replace the beta carbolines of our brain with endorphins and dopamines!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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A Few Thoughts on Messiah and Maestro Handel

Monday Musings for Monday December 10, 2012

Volume II. 40/92

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A Few Thoughts on Messiah and Maestro Handel

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

NC Symphony and NC Master Chorale recently performed Messiah with authority, power, transcendence and luminosity that the piece deserves.  Here are a few thoughts about Messiah and our beloved octogenarian NCS:

Messiah is special in many ways:

1)     Handel (George Frideric) and Bach (Johann Sebastian) were born in Germany the same year, 1685.  Handel in Halle, and Bach in Eisenach, about fifty miles apart.  They followed different paths, different careers, and different life styles.  Probably never met.  Handel spent a lot of his professional life in England and wrote music for George II, former Elector of Hanover of Germany.  Handel was working for the Elector as a Kapellmeister.  He left Germany for Italy to further his musical education without the Elector’s permission. The Elector, who later became George II, King of England, was not very pleased.  Handel approached George II in London and apologized for abandoning his post.   Handel was forgiven by the king who commissioned the Maestro for many pieces of music, among them The Water Music. George II became very fond of Handel’s music.  It was Handel who composed music for the King’s coronation in 1727.  Obviously by 1727, Handel was well forgiven by his majesty.

2)    It is variously reported that Messiah was written by Handel in fewer than 30 days.  A true miracle.  His knowledge of the Bible was astounding.  His creative genius of musical composition was unparalleled.  Handel was a big man.  He did not mince words.  If he did not like a minion’s behavior, he would let his displeasure be known by beating up the irritant. Wonder if King George II was intimidated by Handel’s heft and bulldog demeanor?

3)    Messiah opened 270 years ago, in 1742.  King George II was in the audience at the performance premiere.  He became so excited by the majesty of the music that he rose during the Alleluia chorus.  Of course everyone else rose.  When the king rises no one stays seated!  The music touched him very deeply.  And that is why, to this day, audiences throughout the world follow what has become the cultural tradition and accepted decorum. We all rise when Alleluia chorus is sung.  Since 1742, Messiah has played continuously without cessation, in war, in peace, in famine and in abundance.  It has been played every year for the past 270 years.

4)    The only other musical lasting and playing continuously is Ibn Khaldoun’s Talavat of Qur’an passages.  Ibn Khaldoun was born in Tunis in 1332.  He was a brilliant Muslim economist, philosopher, theologian, polymath and music lover.  He wanted to bring music back to Islam,  a religion that had banned music.  Khaldoun wrote to the reigning Caliph suggesting and arguing that since it is acceptable to sing the passages of the Holy Quran, by fatwa, the Caliph should allow singing and music in Islamic nations.  The Caliph agreed.  Khaldoun started an annual singing competition for Islamic countries which continues to this day.  It is very much like our Oscars or the Emmys.  All Islamic nations send their best singers to participate in Talavat competition.  I believe Nigeria holds the current championship.  Talavat started in 1355 when Khaldoun was 23 years old. In the history of music, there are no other compositions known to have continuously played.

As an aside: Ibn Khaldoun forwarded the concept of trickledown economics.  One might recall that in 1981, Robert Mundell, Chairman of the late President Reagan’s Board of Economic Advisers, introduced trickledown economics.  He had studied Ibn Khaldoun.  In his writings, Mundell has made numerous references to the 14th century Arab economist.  A Columbia University professor of economics, Mundell conceived and created the Euro.  He is now working on a currency for the Middle East and the Arab world. Any suggestion what it might be called?  Mundell won 1999 Nobel Prize in economics.

Symphony no. 7 by Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by NC Symphony

In its 80th year, the NC Symphony has reached a degree of maturity, predictable excellence, and incredible versatility that is gratifying and admirable.  Recently, the symphony  played back to back the relatively short Mozart ‘s Symphony no 25 in G minor followed by the 75 minute technically demanding and colossal Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7.  The 104 piece symphony with 26 violins, nine violas, nine cellos, six basses, 13 French Horns, two harps and a complement of piccolos, flutes, oboes, with 10 additional trombones and trumpets housed in the chorale loft of the concert hall, along with an impressive array of percussive instruments, provided a memorable evening.  The music depicted storm of war, softness and tranquility of peace, conflict, and human indignity.  The composition brought to mind synaesthetically, Picasso’s painting the famed Guernica and the tumultuous narrative of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  Guest conductor Carlos Kalmar’s mastery of the music brought Maazelian exactitude and  excellence which allowed for the majesty of the talent of the NCS’s musicians to be fully expressed.

We have professional sports such as football and basketball that get full weekly coverage in the local media.  I wish we would offer equal recognition to our NCS team.

*The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill.  He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

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