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On Music, Humanities and Religion in Our Lives

“Monday Musings” for August 12, 2013

Volume III, No. 30//123


Down Memory Lane…

124,000 Prophets, 5000 Music Composers…

Music, Humanities, and Religion in Our Lives

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

As a child, I grew up memorizing the 114 Sura(s) of the Islamic Bible, the Holy Quoran. Along the way, we were tested on all 6666 verses, and 77,457 words of the magnificent text. Also, we learned passages from the Hindu Holy Book, Bhagavad Gita (Ghandi read it every morning upon arising and every night before retiring to bed), Zoroaster’s Avesta, and chapters from the Jewish Bible, the Torah. In addition, the Jesuit school, College Saint Louis where I attended, emphasized instructions about memorizing the Western and European literature beginning with French. We learned that the Christian Bible has 66 books, 39 in Old Testament, 593,493 words; 27 books in New Testament, 181,253 words; a total of 774,746 word in the entire Christian Bible (not hard to memorize!). Just an aside, Shakespeare has 118,406 lines and 884,647 words…Astonishing!  Did Shakespeare know more words than God? Sheer blasphemy!

Faithful readers of this space recall my love affair with Mother Simone of College Saint Louis, awe of Father Bertunesque, and sheer terror of Mon Pere Superior, the school Headmaster. Mother Simone was a toughie! She was to teach us “Les Literatures Francaise de dix-huitieme siècle” (18th century French literature) but she began the year with 15th century Francois Rabelais (1494-1553), then crisscrossing  all époques and periods, she covered Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755), Voltaire (1694-1778), Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1754), Alphonse Chateaubriant (1877-1951), Alfonse de La Martin (1884-1947), right up to Marcel Proust (1871-1922), Emil Zola (1840-1904), Albert Camus (1913-1960) and Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Note that some of those writers were still alive in the 1940’s when I was going to that school, but just the same, they all came in purview of Mother Simone’s course of 18th century literature!  In addition, she somehow succeeded in ‘horseshoeing’ foreign philosophers, such as British John Locke (1632-1704) and German Philosopher, Friedric Hegel (1770-1831) and others because their thoughts and teachings were consonant with the French authors she was tackling. The closeness of John Locke with Montesquieu is a good example.  She used to say Montesquieu and Locke go together like oeufs et jambon (ham and eggs!)

Mon Pere Bertunesque was a tall wiry priest with a long pointed beard/goatee, and deep set brown eyes that invited a lot of dark shadows in the sockets making his eyes appear to be set deeper. He had a penetrating gaze that ‘pierced a hole in granite.’  He would not inflict corporal punishment. His gaze was enough…

We had additional memorizing to do: every Persian child from educated families memorizes Persian poets whose books asymptotically approach the popularity, if not the holiness, of the Holy Quoran. They are the collected work (Kolliat) of Hafiz (1337-1406), Saadi (1210-1290), Rumi (1207-1273), Kahjeh Abdollah Ansari (1006-1088), Baba Taher Oryan (around 1000-1055—accurate dates are unknown) and of course the epic poets such as Ferdowsi (940-1020). British scholarship holds that John Milton (1608-1674) followed Ferdowsi’s style and metrics in writing Paradise Lost. To all this add the basic sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, trigonometry and astronomy, plus the arts  (music, painting or calligraphy, Naskh and Nastaaleegh), and you will have the rich curriculum of College Saint Louis.

Composers Parallel Prophets

With all this exposure to so many religions, we learned that there are 124 thousand prophets sent by God, starting with Adam, and ending according to the Christians with Christ who will appear on the Day of Judgment (book of Revelation). In Islam it is Imam Mehdi (Imam ASSR-or contemporary Imam) who will appear on the judgment day…  These prophets have been sent to make human lives more righteous (the word righteous means tuned), to make life peaceful, without friction, just like a toned engine, with no friction and no inefficiency or waste. I have been seeking parallels between religious prophets who brought us righteousness, all 124,000 of them. My conclusion is that a handful of music composers, people like Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, including Chevalier de Saint George, known as the Black Mozart (1745-1799), and the British Mozart, Samuel Wesley (1766-1837), nephew of the famed theologian John Wesley, founder of Methodist Church, who brought us music, basically accomplished the same thing as the prophets. They brought us harmony, joy, and peace.

The list of these 5000 world famous composers, far shorter than 124,000 prophets, start with French composer Adolph Adam (1803- 1856) through Russian composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) provides the reader with an astonishing source of power and sublime beauty. Music like religion is life changing. Composers of music, like prophets, have brought God’s gift of peace and joy and promise of redemption to mankind. Having music as a part of one’s life and vocabulary is a privilege. Music, especially Viennese/Northern German classical music with its rich harmony, and melismatic Italian/Southern European music with its rich melody, are necessary for life like food and oxygen.  Symphonic music elevates the majesty of human soul.  As psychiatrists, we fight addiction.  But here is a case where I advocate addiction: addiction to reading the Holy celestial books, and drowning one’s self in a sea of classical music and Opera.


*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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The Night of Yalda, A few words about Christianity, and King James Bible

Monday Musings for Monday December 17, 2012

Volume II, 41/93


The Night of Yalda, A few words about Christianity, and King James Bible

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


The month of December portends four events carefully choreographed by aligning stars to produce a cosmic feast. The first event, of course, is Christmas on December 25. The other events are winter solstice, December 21, the longest night of the year and shortest day of the year; and Hanukkah, the festival of lights which this year began on December 8.  The fourth event, to some of us equally important, is the birth of Ludwig Van (not Von) Beethoven on December 16.

Although not a religious holiday like Yom Kippur, Hanukkah is about rededication to the will of Yahweh. Reading religious holy books including Zoroaster’s Avesta; Hindu’s sacred and magnificent book, Bhagavad Gita; Moses’ Torah, Christians’ Bible, especially Paul’s letters in the New Testament; and Islam’s Qur’an, one becomes acutely aware of commonality of the message of these books: love, duty, responsibility, redemption, promise and possibilities for all humans, for all children of God. Here are some thoughts on some of these matters:

December 21 is the longest night of the year.  In Mede and Persian history and Zoroastrian tradition, it is a holy night, “Night of Birth”, the birth of Mithra, the God of illumination and salvation. The birth of Ahura Mazda.

Persian poets have written extensively about the night of Yalda (Shab-e-Yalda).  Here is a stanza from Baba Taher Oryan (950-1019), the mystical Persian poet who roamed the mountains of Hamadan naked

Shab-e-Yalda is the longest night of they year,

To have more time to read and learn…

To have more time to worship….

To have more time to reflect…

To have more time to connect with the beloved and

To have more time to nurture one’s soul…”

We know that Plato wrote extensively about the soul, Zoroastrianism, and the night of Yalda

May you have a fruitful and joyous Yalda night.

II-A Few Words about Christianity:  Commercial vs. Spiritual

Christmas as a religious observance and Christmas a secular event may co-exist, woe unto the cynics and to the intolerants. In ancient days of Egyptians, Persians and Romans, they celebrated the winter solstice called the Saturnalia which ran December 17 to 24. They closed offices and exchanged gifts. This is the time when the sun reaches its lowest point and begins to climb, once more, in the sky. In its earliest days, Christianity did not celebrate the Nativity at all. Only two of the four Gospels even mention it. Instead, Easter was the most important day in the Christian year. In 325, when the Church fathers convened in Nicea, they focused on this issue and decided that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon of the spring, making it a moveable feast. In 354, the year Saint Augustine of Hippo was born, Pope Liberius decided to add the Nativity to the Church calendar. So, it was he who decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on the fixed day of December 25. It was not until the 1800s that commerce got a hold of Christmas and resurrected the ancient gift giving of the Roman Saturnalia. In 1828, for example, the American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought the plant poinsettia to the US. It has been associated with Christmas ever since. We have room to celebrate the secular feast of Saturnalia, winter solstice, on the 25th of December. To get us closer to God, eternity and spirituality, observe the mystical and holy phenomenon of the birth of Christ religiously both at the same time. It is unhealthy to engage in extremes of either or and to be cynical and intolerant of others. After all, Christmas and Saturnalia are to enhance love and understanding.
III-Reflections on the end of the year:

To the thousands who read us and hundreds who write us from across the globe, we offer our thanks.  We will, from time to time, publish some of the issue-centered letters that deepen our understanding and elevate the level of discourse.  After all, that is the primary purpose and the etymological meaning of education, from Latin educata: to uplift and elevate knowledge and understanding…

Our faithful readers remember at the end of 2011, we wrote an essay about the King James Bible.  In 2011, the Holy Book became 400 years old.  There were quadricentennial observances of the birth of the Bible throughout Europe.  In my view, the King James Bible translated and written by “Secretaries of God” (see my review of the book by the same title in Wake County Physician magazine , Volume IX, July 2004) is a work that ennobles your soul.  The accuracy, elegance, and lapidary Elizabethan English and the Shakespearian stylistic influence on the translators are unparalleled.  We will write more on the subject in 2013.

*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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