On Religious Mysticism: Buddhism and Islam Crossover

Buddha and Rabia of Basra.

On my religion studies escapade, today I had the chance to attend one of the most enlightening lectures, religious text.

We ought to analyse some Islamic mystical discourses, to a great degree, Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī and some other names with well-known islamic written traditions such as Aṭṭār of Nishapur, Hasan Al Basri, Rabia of Basra, Al-Hallaj and Al Ghazali, etc.

To examine theology and religions, it is almost impractical not to involve religious poets. As someone who is more involved in political philosophy, the realm of religious poetry is certainly one alienated yet stimulating subject.

In Political philosophy, religious poetries work in the most subtle way and yet moving; it motivates masses from within, through aesthetic of its linguistic and the very creation of myth. A double-edged sword that can either motivates a moral civilisation or prejudiced mass violence.

Plato claimed that, “there is an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry” (The Republic, 607b5–6), continued with his claim against poets “to preserve us from slipping back into the childish loves of the multitude; for we have come to see that we must not take such poetry seriously as a serious thing” (The Republic, 608a) which marked a necessary separation between State and religious poetry.

To a more contemporary example, Slavoj Žižek stated on his article entitled The Poetic Torture-House of Language that “poetry relates to ethnic cleansing judging from this post-Yugoslav experience, where ethnic cleansing was prepared by poets’ dangerous dreams,” that implied only the power of religious poets could motivate a great mass to do horrible things for a rather spiritual purpose.

Today I shifted the perspective to see religious poetry discourse from within.

To see a different paradigm, insofar as could mysticism work merely with religion? or could it work within and against religion at the same time?

To begin with, I shall highlight the distinction mysticism and myth.

To avoid confusion, I shall emphasise the certain duality between the two. According to Britannica mysticism is the practice of religious ecstasies (religious experiences during alternate states of consciousness), together with whatever ideologies, ethics, rites, myths, legends, and magic may be related to them.

The key of mysticism for me is a “detachment” or “consciousness hack” from reality through religious practices, which is part of the mythical rituals, where a mystic could have a “direct” contact to the Divine.

From the names I have mentioned earlier in the beginning of the article, for the most part, they were Islamic Sufis and theologians.

There were at least two underdog figures I was highly intrigued with, that to a great degree I thought of having a strong parallel print with some Buddhism concepts; Rabia Basri for this article and I will be talking about Mansur Al-Hallaj in the next article.

THE SUBLIMATION OF FEAR TO LOVE

God is love, I am going to burn paradise and douse hellfire.
Rabia al-Adawiyya, or Rabia Basri, the Great female muslim Sufi from Islamic Golden Age. Rabia was born in the city of Basra, today’s Iraq and left the world with her outstanding remark of “Divine Love” (Ishq-e-Haqeeqi). Rabia had a rather traumatic childhood; her father died, her family was robbed and she was sold into slavery.

Through the hardship she encountered, she found herself in love with the Divine through hymns. Her love to the Divine (Allah) was deeply invested in her, to the extent that she refused to marry because all she wanted to love was Allah. Her faith to Allah was so strong that she would fast for a long period of time and lived in poverty, yet claimed these hardships as a blessing from the Divine.

She did not fear the Divine, she loved and adored Him.

She prayed: “O Allah! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”
ʻAṭṭār and Arberry (1966), 51; Smith (2001), 30.

She devoted her entire life to adore the Divine; living through pleasure denial and abandoned her sense of self but to devote herself to Allah.

“I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God.”

The abandonment of pleasure and fear, in the name of God.

Doesn’t it ring a bell? yet rather, in Buddhism?

In Buddhism paradigm, fear is the fundamental stage of every suffering.
Fear is the root of samsara.
Fear imprisons beings.

Buddhism concepts and teachings rely a lot with the sublimation of fear into love — to live without anxiety, and to strive towards the path of awakening.

According to G. Giustatini in his research The Role of Fear (Bhaya) in the Nikāyas and in the Abhidhamma, there different kinds of fear in Buddhism (Papancasūdanī commentary); fear of defilements (kilesabhaya), fear of the cycle of existence (vattabhaya), fear of a bad rebirth (iduggatibhaya), and fear of blame (upavādab- haya).

Research has shown that Buddhists are less terrified about death, in The Sutta, Buddhism indicates the teaching of non-attachment to the body due to the major source of fear it may become.

In the Sutta Nipāta, Buddhism teaches further about loving-kindness and the Divine.

Just as a mother at the risk of life
loves and protects her child, her only child,
so one should cultivate this bondless love
to all that live in the whole universe — ₁₄₉

extending from a consciousness sublime
upwards and downwards and across the world,
untroubled, free from hate and enmity. ₁₅₀

And while one stands and while one sits
or when one lies down still free from drowsiness,
one should be intent on this mindfulness —
this is divine abiding here they say. ₁₅₁

Fearlessness is not only a part of a big concept in Buddhism, but it is one thing to acknowledge to free ourselves from hate and enmity. To focus on bondless love and mindfulness in acquiring the state of Nirvana or “becoming extinguished” from the endless samsara and dukha.

Rabia Basri emphasized love to the Divine above all else, however, shall we forget that fear is a big part of Islamic teaching?

The name is Taqwa (تقوى), the fear of Allah.
“Forbearance, fear and abstinence.”

It is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an,

“People! Worship your Rab (Creator and Sustainer) Who created you and those before you, so that you may guard against evil…” (2:21)

وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ ءَامَنُوا۟ وَٱتَّقَوْا۟ لَمَثُوبَةٌ مِّنْ عِندِ ٱللَّهِ خَيْرٌ ۖ لَّوْ كَانُوا۟ يَعْلَمُونَ
“If only they were faithful and mindful ˹of Allah˺, there would have been a better reward from Allah, if only they knew!” (2:103)

The idea of Divine in Islam is highly associated with reward and punishment, hence the fear of God is watching every single deed we do that later on will be rewarded both in the Hereafter (paradise/hell) or in the worldly life (as in the form of blessings of a good life, etc).

To abandon the idea that Divinity in Islam is pure love, could work against the Islamic dogma itself. The difference between Islamic morality and Buddhism teachings in my personal point of view is that Buddhism would indicate an alienation of oneself against desire to acquire peace of mind but Islam is rather focusing on collecting good deeds and suppressing bad deeds to acquire a deserving Hereafter.

One more point to emphasize, it is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an:

مَّثَلُ ٱلْجَنَّةِ ٱلَّتِى وُعِدَ ٱلْمُتَّقُونَ ۖ فِيهَآ أَنْهَـٰرٌۭ مِّن مَّآءٍ غَيْرِ ءَاسِنٍۢ وَأَنْهَـٰرٌۭ مِّن لَّبَنٍۢ لَّمْ يَتَغَيَّرْ طَعْمُهُۥ وَأَنْهَـٰرٌۭ مِّنْ خَمْرٍۢ لَّذَّةٍۢ لِّلشَّـٰرِبِينَ وَأَنْهَـٰرٌۭ مِّنْ عَسَلٍۢ مُّصَفًّۭى ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِيهَا مِن كُلِّ ٱلثَّمَرَٰتِ وَمَغْفِرَةٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ ۖ كَمَنْ هُوَ خَـٰلِدٌۭ فِى ٱلنَّارِ وَسُقُوا۟ مَآءً حَمِيمًۭا فَقَطَّعَ أَمْعَآءَهُمْ

“Is the description of Paradise, which the righteous are promised, wherein are rivers of water unaltered, rivers of milk the taste of which never changes, rivers of wine delicious to those who drink, and rivers of purified honey, in which they will have from all [kinds of] fruits and forgiveness from their Lord, like [that of] those who abide eternally in the Fire and are given to drink scalding water that will sever their intestines?” (47:15)

To conclude, yes religious poetry, mysticism, could be a double-edged sword for its own religious dogma.

It could either cultivate the magnitude of religious influence or implicitly challenged the dogma from within.

Rabia’s poems and ideas of Divine love have given a close parallel imprint of Buddhism instead of Islam.

Rabia has censured (subtly, whether intentionally or not) at least two most important notions in Islam; the importance of Heaven and Hell, and the Fear of God.

And yet, unlike Al-Hallaj, she had a rather fortunate end.

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