31 Aug 2020
Kashmir is traditionally held to be a sanctified or blessed land of the Spirit. Kashmir is indeed a pir-waer and the garden of paradise on earth if paradise is the name of saints’ dwelling. Kashmir as the fairyland of peace and contentment warped round the devotion and silence of the Himalayas, musical streams and limpid lakes is an ideal location for japa or zikr, for contemplation or meditation. It is no wonder that the history of Kashmir is a history of its saints and sages who have provided the life style and culture to its people. The valley itself was founded and established by a legendry mystic, Kashyapa who drained the waters of “Sati Sar.” He recognised the sacredness of the land and designed it to be the abode of saints. If there is any land where the order of eternity and the order of time, the heaven and the earth, intersect and overlap, where celestial lights illumine everything it is Kashmir.
Our aim is to argue that it is the mystic that defines the ideal of Kashmiri consciousness. Throughout history it is mysticism that has given identity to Kashmiris. It is not dualistic exoteric religion but esoteric or mystical thought that has been central to the definition of Kashmiri culture in all its different forms – Buddhist, Saivist or Islamic. If history is any guide to the determination of present identity then mysticism emerges as a strong candidate for it. Kashmiri culture has been and is mystically oriented. It has upheld a mystical or philosophical (more precisely metaphysical) outlook and not simply a religious worldview which could easily lend itself to communal or sectarian appropriation. Kashmir, historically speaking, has never been a theologically oriented culture. Its religiosity can’t be measured in terms of more conventional parameters and amazement expressed by many scholars regarding the Kashmiri’s lax religiosity is not difficult to comprehend. In this paper it is argued that the traditional mystical identity of Kashmir needs to be understood from metaphysical rather than religious perspective and that it could be deployed in charting a response to a host of current challenges – social, economical, religious and environmental. Mysticism has sample resources for us to squarely face the problems that bedevil the postmodern West and a world condemned to live in the midst of divergent cultures and identities . So far there has been no comprehensive attempt to study diverse religious traditions of Kashmir simultaneously especially in relation to modern secular thought currents and exclusivist theological voices. In the absence of any attempt to apply by comparativists any comprehensive methodology to deal with divergent religious world-views we have yet to develop outlines of what could be called as Kashmir philosophy. If the most important task of comparative philosophy is to understand common basis of different traditions as Ananda Coomaraswamy said we can say that Kashmiri scholars have yet to contemplate such vital a task. In this paper the task before us is:
Identifying mystical/metaphysical basis of different religious traditions that have informed our heritage.
Attempt to argue for the centrality of the mystical in Kashmir religion and culture.
Salvage the mystical worldview of Kashmir against its modern day critics especially exotericist critics.
Identify misappropriations of the mystical in occultist and pseudomystical circles.
Critique exploiting power structures that trade in the name of the mystics.
I shall be taking a series of questions and attempt to answer them from the perennialist viewpoint to establish the basic theses that Reshiyyat is the integrating and unifying element of all the important religio-philosophical traditions of Kashmir and that the state of Reshi, identified as the sage or the mystic in less precise terms, is the ideal posited by different traditions. The thesis of the paper is that transtheological, transsectarian and thus metaphysical Reshiyyat as Kashmir’s quintessential tradition and its defining identity. Reshiyyat approached from the framework of traditional metaphysics unites diverse theological traditions without denying the validity of particular religious traditions. It is unfortunate that it has not been approached from this perspective so far and in fact there is no systematic presentation of Reshi metaphysics available. A lot of religious/theological, sociological and historical studies of it have been done but the profound metaphysical grounding of it has yet to be attempted. Understanding Reshiyyat from metaphysical perspective serves to foreground the essential transcendent unity of contributing traditions and help evolve a response to pluralism and multiculturalism that has become the reality of the postmodern world. The questions I shall take for discussion include What is Reshiyyat and its history? Who is a Reshi? What is the relation between exoteric and esoteric dimensions of religions? Could traditions be under threat from “rival” traditions and in need of revival.
Who is a Reshi?
How does one become a Reshi and who qualifies as a Reshi? The answer is a good Muslim or Sufi is a Reshi according to Sheikh Nuruddin. The Reshi is Sanskrit equivalent of mystic or inspired person, one to whom the vision of God has been vouchsafed. It signifies mystical consciousness which precedes or transcends diverse theological formulations or expressions. Reshi is a generic term for mystic or enlightened person or anyone who seeks to realize the esoteric aspect of his religious tradition. The fruit of the path that he follows is self realization. “Know thyself” is first commandment of all mystical traditions, Eastern and Western. Reshi goes on the great adventure to know this self. The debate over Persian vs. Sanskrit origin of the term is hardly warranted in view of the fact that the mystic is a bird of lamakaan for whom these things hardly matter. There has been an attempt by Hasan and certain other scholars to Islamize the term Reshi, its origin and the whole chronology that Nurrudin gives in his famous verses. This should be understood from the same perspective and we need not fight over the literal or historical validity of this Islamized history of Reshiyyat in Kashmir. We need to caution against confounding literal with the symbolic and historical with metahistorical and absolutizing the names and labels. The Reshi, the sage, the self realized one, the inspired poet, is the image of primordial man or Adam. One becomes a Reshi by transcending desiring self or ego and becoming a mirror to Reality or God. When the realm of the known ceases, when thoughts cease, when the mind is transcended, when carnal self goes, man becomes a fit receptacle of divine tajalliyat. When nafs or hawa don’t speak, God speaks. The Quran must be revealed to us for authentic existential response from our side, as Iqbal has famously said in his Urdu couplet. The Reshi is name of a medium, an empty receptacle (where no fog of passions and mind obstructs the Unknown, the revelation to descend), a flute, a clean slate on which God writes with his own qalm. One must be gone to be able to assimilate the mighty speech of God. No earthly tongue can be vouchsafed the ability to utter God’s word. The ego or the lower self must be annihilated so that only God remains as happened in case of Mansur. The Reshi passes away from this phenomenal world, as the Beloved’s word consumes him, burns him. One can’t live (as the ordinary self) and know God. That is what is the purport of the following verses of the Sheikh, the revivalist, the resurrector of Reshi movement in the 14th century A.D. “The reading of the Quran should have broken the flashy talisman of your life. In reading the Quran Mansur annihilated himself.” These verses explain the meaning and making of a Reshi. God can only speak through man/ to man when man is no longer man in the ordinary sense of the term. To let God speak man must be silent. He must pass through that severe mystical discipline and control his mind and self. It needs, to quote our Shiekh, “Consecrating life to the search for Truth.” One who “tighten the belly to learn (the virtues of) patience/Gives up his ego/ Contemplates Him in seclusion” could be eligible for the lofty station of the Reshi. Shiekh Nuruddin, identifying true Muslim with the Reshi, explicates attributes of him. “Who longs to live by the sweat of one’s mind/ Who shows fortitude in provocation/who shares meals with the hungry / who is obsessed with the idea of removing huger, who scorns anger, greed, illusion, arrogance and self conceit.” The Reshi reaches arsh by the load of his nobler actions and then only “the grace of the Omnipotent embraces him.” The Reshi is one “who remains humble despite his substance and sits very low on the wheel of life.” Consuming himself in the fire that the kalima generates and realizing the mirage of existential unity he finds the Eternal and transcends space. The Reshi may be ummi or unlettered but by knowing the meaning of kalima which is “the source of all knowledge”, he appropriates all the essential metaphysical, eschatological and moral truths that are contained in the kalima. The Reshi kindles the lamp of knowledge and religion as he realizes the essence of all knowledge contained in alif, lam and mim. The Reshi realizing the oneness of existence (what Shaikhul Aalam calls kunyr) radiates peace. There is no “other” for him as he has realized unity by transcending all dualities and dualism. His principle of nonviolence extends to all nature, inanimate and animate. His Unitarian weltanschauung dissolves all exclusions and marginalization. He isn’t guilty of any epistemic violence. He is one with Existence. He makes no claims over and against it. He surrenders to Reality and that is why he attains peace within and without. Islam as another name of peace and non-violence and an ethic of social justice has been practically realized by the Reshis. For Nuruddin the Reshi is more a name of a consciousness than a name of particular historical or concrete personality and by virtue of that belongs to all of us. We are all, by virtue of being humans, Reshis or Reshis is the making. This world is the Vale of Reshi making and the Reshi in widest sense of the term is Spirit or its archetypal image. The Reshi possesses the essence of all religious traditions and is heir to everything grand and noble in the history of humanitarian and mystical thought. He sacrifices his desires for the good of others. That is the meaning of his vegetarianism and faqr. He has no self or ego and is epitome of altruism. To be a Reshi is a realization that mere creedal formulae can’t save. It is to be the object of one’s knowledge or belief. It is not merely consent to a proposition but whole hearted effort to submit to the Truth that makes one a Reshi. Becoming a Reshi is a process and not an event. It is lifelong commitment to follow a different life. It is not consummated at some point of time. It is lifelong odyssey. God is the name of perpetual creativity. Life divine is an unfinished project. One never reaches God. God is a perpetual quest, unattainable ideal. Reshi life is a matter of choices that one makes every moment. Seeing God is the last luxury of life and very few can afford it. It costs one everything including one’s soul. It is idle to debate who is a Sufi or a Reshi from outside. Forms must be transcended according to all Sufis if one has to make the great leap to God. There is no address of the man of God. The man of God is trackless, traceless as Rumi says. One wonders how one can judge Sufis or Reshis on the basis of the world of forms which they have realized in depth and then transcended.
Reshiyyat, Mysticism and Metaphysics
From the perspective of perennialism one could say that the term Reshi is Indian way of referring to Logos, the Light of Muhammad, and the Christ-Reality. If the first Reshi was Ahmad Reshi and the latter is synonymous with the pole of Existence, the Universal Man, the envoy of the Absolute as elaborated in Sufi metaphysics then Reshiyyat is an integral tradition and formulation of the Sanatana Dharma, the primordial Din, the Sophia perennis, javidaan khird. This makes it truly universalistic. Reshiyyat’s history doesn’t extend only to 4000 years as some have argued but to all eternity, to preeternity. Specifying Muhammad as the first Reshi is not to restrict Reshiyyat to post-Islamic period. In fact the Prophet’s name is Ahmed in heaven in Islamic tradition. Sheikh Nuruddin’s specification of the name as Ahmed Reshi seems to be an allusion to this heavenly or timeless transhistorical Muhammad. It is also established that Reshiyyat in Kashmir predates the birth of the Prophet of Islam. The Reshi’s journey is from pre-eternity to post-eternity and we are all, willy nilly summoned to take this great expedition. We are all fellow travelers on the path of Reshiyyat because to be a Reshi is to be concerned, ultimately concerned with our Ground of Being, which is none other than God who is none other the Self, the ideal pole of man.
What is common between Buddhism, Saivism, Tantricism and Sufism is the religious experience, the fruit of which is the peace that passeth all understanding. The path is transcendence of ego to realize the Infinite, the Unconditioned. Theologies are only different conceptual schemes to make sense of the religious experiences of the prophets and saints and are dispensable. Metaphysics which is the science of the supraphenomenal, the science of the Infinite and the Unconditioned transcends the theologies as it speaks of direct vision or gnosis (irfan). It is non-dualistic and takes Absolute or Godhead rather than the personal God of theology as the Ultimate Reality. Enlightenment/deliverance/ gnosis/ vision of God or the kingdom of God dissolves all questions that conceptual intellect raises. Theologies and forms are transcended as their supraformal referent and ground is realized. The great end is not merely mystical realization but metaphysical realization where the there is no limitation of finitude or individuality and knowing and being are merged as subject-object duality is finally transcended. Transcendence of the desiring self is the unifying element of all traditional religions. Perennialists convincingly argue that that there is no important difference between different mystical paths which constitute the inner reality of all religions. There can’t be any difference in the fruit either. They claim to derive logical conclusion from the Quranic verses that speak of the universality of revelation and ad-Deen and that describe the Quran as the testifier of previous revelations. Tawhid, Sufistically interpreted as ‘There is no truth but Truth or there is no reality but Reality,’ is seen to be the essence of all religious and mystical traditions. Iqbal’s description of the Prophet in such verses as Lowh b tou, kalm bi tou, tera wujood alkitab, Aayai Kaiyinat ka main-i- dareyaab tou/ niklae teri talash mai kafla haay rang-o boo, Nigahi isq-o- masti mai wahi awwal wahi aakhir approximates the metaphysical understanding of Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings – the very name Muhammad means the praised one. Organized ritual blessing on him is a practice in vogue in Kashmir. Praising Muhammad is, metaphysically speaking, praising and blessing Existence or Life. Durood is at root indicative of the attitude of yes-saying to life which could be contrasted to absurdist attitude of rebellion or nihilistic despair) that perennialists put forward in defence of their thesis that Muhammad is universally acknowledged by traditional communities. Muhammed, seen in mystical and metaphysical terms as the Pole of Existence, the Logos, the Principle of Manifestation, the positivity of existence, the envoy of the Absolute, the First stage of the Tanazullat-i-Sitta, the Praised One in the capacity of perfection of man, the ideal pole of man, the essence of Aadamiyat, the Light that was created before Adam, the revealer of Divin e Attributes, the unfragemented integrated perfected manhood, the transhistorical or metahistorical or archetypal Muhammad is not denied by any integral religious tradition. Islam, metaphysically and mystically interpreted as the surrender of the finite self before the Infinite, the Totality, the Existence, is not a religion among other religions but the Religion. It is the religion of all prophets. Islam is not a set of propositions or a mere creedal system. It claims to be the Truth or Reality (Allah’s denotative name is al-Haqq) that is Manifest. Allah is the Manifest Truth according to the Quran. Islamic kalima is translatable in such terms that only a spiritually blind person who deliberately chooses to veil or cover the truth. Kafir, in the Quranic parlance, is one who denies the truth that is made manifest to him with dazzling clarity and not the one who denies certain theological proposition. The Quran is not reducible to theology. In fact it is not understandable in purely theological terms. Traditional Muslims have never encouraged kalam. At the stage of metaphysical realization the theological plane which is dualistic and inherently limited is transcended so that no question of exclusivist labels and identities is there. So the question whether Lalla was a Saivite or Muslim belonging to the theological plane cannot be entertained from the metaphysical plane.
Reshiyyat is not to be designated as a religion but as a metaphysic and esotericism that grounds different religions. This metaphysics assumes different forms in accordance with different religious traditions. This metaphysics forms the unifying element of all traditions religions. Religions are adaptations according to different human receptacles of the truths of metaphysics. Doctrinal content or dogmas of different religions are reducible to metaphysical principles. There is a difference between religion and metaphysics. As Guenon points out the metaphysical point of view is purely intellectual while as in the religious or theological point of view the presence of a sentimental element affects the doctrine itself, which doesn’t allow of it complete objectivity.1
The fact that Reshi is a transreligious term and can’t be spoken of as belonging to only a particular religious universes means we have to see the underlying metaphysical truths that he comes to realize. Forms are relative; only the Absolute is absolute. Theologies are forms. The supraformnal truth that Reshi comes to cognize allows him to penetrate the forms from within and then at the same time transcend them. The fact that Reshis have arisen within specific religious traditions and have remained loyal to a particular religious universe disproves crude syncretistic view that dissolves forms as irrelevant. Forms are also divine though relative. They conceal an esoteric supraformal truth of which they are clothing. It is for the insider only that a journey to the centre of religious universe which is Godhead is possible according to the perennialists. Ad-Deen is the eternal truth that different sh’aria and theologies express and it is the later that vary across time and space in the history of religions. By virtue of crossing the dark night of the soul and attaining to the stage of haqq-ul-yakeen the Reshi or the Sufi is able to have unmediated vision of truth that ad-Deen is. A Muslim Reshi is born in the bosom of Islam and lives Islam but that doesn’t mean the truth in previous revelations is thereby negated but only relived in a different form. Reshiyyat is not approachable as a particular philosophical system. It because it refers to the Universal, the Unlimited can’t be contained in a particular system. Metaphysics, being the truth of Universal Principles or the Infinite and All-Possibility isn’t definable. One can’t make a system or ideology out of it. Only reason constructs systems or ideologies. Darsanas of Indian origin and Sufism are not philosophical schools in the Western sense of the term. So those authors who use such phrases as Reshi ideology, Reshi philosophy or Saivite philosophy misuse the terms. Western philosophy lacks complete metaphysics and is not what Plato meant by it: a way of life and love of wisdom. Philosophy in the primordial sense of the term that prepares one for death and assimilation to God as Plato said is not a rational logical abstract discipline only and is allied to gnosis, a way of life or realization of the good. It is not a prerogative of ratio or mental faculty of reason but of nous, the supraindividual universal faculty of intellect. Metaphysics, the science of supraphenomenal universal principles, the Infinite, that transcends all binaries and dualisms that have plagued the Western philosophical and theological tradition, and resolves all contradictions in the One, the Absolute, coincidentia oppositorum, is intellectual (non-discursive intelligence) rather than rational discipline and postmodern critiques are hardly relevant to it as it is not dualistic, “structuralist,” or to be identified with metaphysics of presence. It is not a mere theoretical rational inquiry but a realization, intellection or noetic vision that transcends subject-object duality and demands something like ethical discipline that Plato argued for. Platonic philosophy, understood as a spiritual and contemplative way of life leading to illumination or enlightenment; an intellectual discipline based on intellection culminating in union (henosis) with ideal Forms; his “Orphic”-Indian conception of philosopher as one who seeks release from the wheel of cyclical term concurs with the perennialist understanding of metaphysics and Indian understanding of darsana. Reshiyyat is a philosophy in this sense and not in the typical Western sense.
Reshi metaphysics is not rational construction. It is not a totalizing system either. It is not a metaphysics of presence either as the Supreme Principle or Absolute in Buddhism, Kashmir Saivism or Sufism is not Being but pure Being or Beyond-Being or Non-Being best described as Void or Northing in Reshi literature. Deconstruction and other postmodern philosophies problematize rational metaphysics and theology only. Reshiyyat also doesn’t take a humanist view of self which postmodernism challenges. Postmodernism has indirectly helped to strengthen the realm of unreason that mysticism takes care of. Mystical traditions such as Reshiyyat transcend all thought constructions and the binaries of dualistic mind and thought. Reshi talks about the language of silence, of prelinguistic prereflective witnessing of phenomena and deconstruction can do nothing to discredit this “discourse” of silence.
History shows that mysticism in Kashmir has been the defining element of Kashmiri tradition and identity. Buddhism and Saivism are essentially mystical religions. Ritualism had been questioned from the very beginning in the history of religious thought in Kashmir. Buddhism that coloured Kashmir religious landscape before the advent of Saivism is strongly critical of ritualism. Saivist sages emphasized relativity and even dispensability of forms. Kashmir Saivism was especially Unitarian or nondualistic like Sufism that followed it. Tantricism was extreme development of esoterical viewpoint that led ultimately to disregard of law. Muslim Kashmir’s greatest sons have been mystics. Our greatest poets have been mystics. Our art is a reflection of our mysticism.
Genealogy of Reshiyyat
Reshiyyat has been the Great Tradition of Kashmir from preIslamic times. The origins of the Reshi movement go back to pre-Islamic times in the Vedic period. The founder of the Muslim Reshi movement in Kashmir, Nuruddin Nurani (1377-1440), moulded the pre-existing Reshi tradition, transforming it into a vehicle for the spread of Islam, using local institutions and methods to make Islam more comprehensible to the Kashmiris. After Nuruddin Reshi movement made deep inroads in Kashmir. Mystical ethos found newer expressions and continues vigorously in the form of Sufis and their shrines. Most Kashmiris are followers or admirers of some l ocal Sufi.
The first Reshi, from traditional metaphysical and mystical viewpoints is Logos, the Pole of Existence, the Principle of Manifestation. He brings into consciousness the archetype of God. The term Reshi should be seen as a “perspective, a standpoint, an archetype of certain dominant historical personalities and even dominant images, a way of looking at experience as a whole, a way of interpreting certain fundamental features of human existence” (Khan, 1994). Shiekh Nuruddin has used the term Reshi in this universal transhistorical and transempirical sense. This is evident in his famous eulogization of the ‘legendry’ Reshis. He wants to convey something more valuable than an elementary historical definition of the term. Mystical quest is perennial. In this sense one could well argue that the Reshi movement didn’t originate in the 14th century but has been always there. Consciousness has no beginning in time; rather it creates time and history. The Reshi is the name of this consciousness. The Reshi lives in eternity, in timeless moment. The present author strongly disagrees with traditional historical approach to phenomenon of Reshiyyat which belongs more to metahistory than history and it is only metahistoric or transhistoric dimension of the Reshi movement that makes it perennially relevant. The origin and evolution of the Reshi movement should be discussed in terms of its metahistorical archetypal image rather than in purely historical terms.
All the great names in Kashmir’s religion and mysticism which include such Buddhist sages, philosophers and kings as Nagasen, Mender, Nagarjuna, Kumarajivia, Gautama Sanghadeva, Punyatrata, Vimalaksa, Dharmamitra, Ashogosh, Varsobando etc. and suchKashmiri Saivite sages and philosophers as SriKantha, Vasugupta, Kallata, Prodyumna Bhatta, Prajnarjuna, Somanand, Utpal Dev, Abhinavgupta, Jayaratha are links in the Reshi chain. Lalla connects Saivism with Islamized Reshiyyat of Shiekh Nuruddin. Great Khulafa (disciples) of Shiekh Nuruddin and Khulafa of those Khulafa and the Sufi appropriation of Reshi movement by Shiekh Makhdoom and from then on a galaxy of Reshis of 3rd period (Ist period is up to Shiekh Nuruddin and from him up to Harda Reshi is 2nd period and from then on may be labeled) as third period when Reshis modified their socio-economic structure by abandoning strict “monkish” asceticism and began to earn their own livelihood) have been keeping alive the great Reshi tradition. The Sufi poets of Kashmir have been vital in preservation and transmission of Reshi message. Sufi poetry represents the essence of Reshiyyat. Thus not only the great Reshis such as Bamuddin, Zainuddin, Latifuddin, Nasiruddin, Payamuddin, Lacham Reshi, Reshi, Rupa Reshi, Sangam Dar, Hardi Reshi and later day representatives like Shankar Reshi, Aali Baba Saeb, Rajab Baba Saeb but also great Sufi poets of Kashmir whose names are too well known are links in the great chain of Reshiyyat. Intellectual and religious history of Kashmir is the history of Reshiyyat.
Islam and Development of Reshiyyat
We now take up the discussion of development of Reshiyyat in relation to Islam in Kashmir to foreground the centrality of the mystical in the whole process of conversion and consolidation of power by Muslims. The story of Islam in Kashmir is one of the most interesting stories in the history of civilizational dialogue. There is hardly any similar example in history of peaceful takeover of one religion and culture by the other. This feat became possible because of the role of Sufis. It is a unique story exemplifying Islam’s resilience and potential to appropriate alien traditions. It shows contours of interfaith dialogue in action. It refutes the dominant perception of Islam as monolithic exclusivist legalistic tradition. The story of Islam in Kashmir is an interesting case of larger story of cultural transformation brought about by mysticism. How mysticism approaches and solves certain important problems is illustrated in Kashmir.
We need to know historical reasons for the ascendency of Islam in Kashmir. Saivism had lost vitality. It degenerated in the course of time as traditions do. No major thinker was produced by Kashmir Saivism after the 12th century. Spirituality had given place to occultism. Buddhism had already yielded to dominant tradition and even adopted the latter’s many forms. Masses had been alienated from decadent religiosity and oppression of priestly class. Prof. Rattan Lal Hangloo has, for instance, argued in his The State in Medieval Kashmir that the mass conversion to Islam was facilitated by the then “Hindu society and polity” which produced “deteriorating social system, the broadening crisis in economy or political insecurity” (Hangloo, 2000). According to him the spread of Islam appeared as an answer and solution to the “problem of injustice, disharmony and the people’s misery.” Islam filled the vacuum quite admirably. It was Sufism that was destined to play historical role in consolidating and revitalizing centuries of spiritual heritage. Mysticism has been the religion of man from the very beginning. It has adapted itself to diversity of forms. Men are programmed to worship God according to the Quran. There is no escape possible from God who is our Environment, our Origin and our End.
Mansur al-Hallaj, the famous mystic-martyr, is said to have visited Kashmir. It took many centuries, until the advent of Sufis from Central Asia and Persia, for the process of conversion to significantly transform religious and cultural landscape of Kashmir. Islam won mass conversion in the 14th century and from then on it has been the dominant tradition displacing both the already enfeebled Buddhism and the decadent Saivism.
The thousands of years long heritage of Reshiyyat easily adapted to the Sufistic face of Islam. Reshiyyat got Islamized at the hands of Sheikh Nuruddin and his followers. Native thought currents thus got assimilated` in the new “synthesis” of the Shaikh, popularly called Shaikhul Alam or Jagat Guru. Masses didn’t feel alienated from their tradition in embracing Islam at the hands of Sufis and Reshis as Islam’s spiritual dimension converged significantly with the Hindu-Buddhist Unitarianm outlook. Ibn Arabi’s wajudi Unitarian version of Islam that Syed Ali Hamdani, the great leader of about 700 Sufis that constituted organized mission for Islamizing Kashmir, advocated could easily get acceptability in already monistically oriented mind of Kashmir. It has been amply demonstrated that conversion to Islam was either by Reshis or Sufis rather than state sponsored enterprise.
New life was breathed into the age old Reshi tradition by Shiekh Nuruddin. He transformed it from the perspective of Sufism and gave it a social dimension. As is usual with the mystics, hardly anything is known with certainty about his life. And we needn’t know! One wonders why biographers and historians exhaust so much energy on these issues. The Sufi comes from nowhere and goes to nowhere. Indeed from nothingness to nothingness is man’s journey. God who is our Origin and End is both Void or Nothing or Sunyata (in the tradition of negative divine) and Fullness or Plenitude of Being, Goodness, Beauty and Truth or Truth, Existence and Bliss (in the tradition of positive divine). Only God is, man as an independent self subsisting entity isn’t. Man can attain baqa only when he ceases to be, when he transcends his “I” or ego consciousness and only mirrors God by total surrender. This is the essence of mysticism of which Shiekh Nuruddin is the exponent. Body and details of its earthly career which subject of biographies are hardly of any significance from the mystical point of view. So our historians’ obsession with the facts or concrete details of worldly life of saints is unwarranted. What isn’t important for a saint because of his transcendence of all labels, all the coordinates of space and time that could be used to fix his position, shouldn’t of much importance to us also and our obsession with it creates such needless controversies as ‘Was Nunda Buddhist or Muslim?’ or ‘Was Lalla Savite or Muslim?’ These questions needn’t be asked and can’t be answered and even if answered by careful sifting of historical evidence, Reshi’s cause isn’t served – who essentially belongs to the supraformal world and not to the realm of nasut, to metahistory and not to history. India, the land of the seers, never cultivated history as a discipline in the modern sense of the term. To the extent modern man (and modernist Kashmiri historian) has lost the sense of the Sacred, the Immutable, the Metahistorical, to that extent he is interested in prying in historical facts and details. We have, generally speaking, no biographies of saints available. We need not either. Historical life of a saint has not to do much with the essence of the thing for which mysticism stands. The earthly period of a saint hardly matters as he lives in eternity. The Spirit (which is the purely divine element in man as is clear from the Quranic verse nafiktu fir-ruhi as distinguished from soul) is never born and never dies. It transcends history and time completely. Our inmost reality is constituted by spirit. This is why, generally speaking, saints don’t care for biographies. As individuals or egos saints don’t exist. They are nobodies, nameless, trackless gone in the experience of fana. Only God is absolutely real; only God’s Face abides and everything else is annihilated and strictly speaking nothing is existent in the real sense.
That is why most modern historians (and this is true of G.M.D. Sufi, A.Q. Rafique and to some extent Ishaq Khan though the last mentioned takes great care to approach it from within and go against the orthodox rationalist historical viewpoint) can’t make sense of hagiological literature with its preponderances of the supernatural. It is modernist historians’ credulous attitude towards the myth and metanarrative of rationalistic scientism that makes him incredulous towards the element of supernatural in the lives of Reshis. The present author is much pained to see misappropriations of hagiographical accounts of our Reshis in rationalist naturalist reductionist framework of modernist historians. Modernist Kashmiri historians’ representations/appropriations of hagiographical sources or miraculous or supernatural element in the lives of the Reshis have serious limitations and sometimes we see gross distortions on account of their rationalist modernist assumptions. There is no space here to elaborate the point.
While analyzing the question of Islam in Kashmir from a theological viewpoint serious misunderstanding have arisen and scholars are still fighting over unresolved issues regarding the distinctive character of Kashmiri Islam or the relationship between Sufism and Reshiyyat, the religious identity of Lalla, communalist vs. secular interpretation of Reshi movement etc. A purely historical approach has led to unending problems for scholars of Kashmir Studies. There is a need to situate Islam and Reshiyyat in the context of pre-Islamic heritage of Kashmir by foregrounding metaphysico-spiritual dimensions of the respective traditions that have contributed to the formation of Kashmiri identity and culture. The theological as against the metaphysical approach adapted by communalists needs to be transcended. This will put in proper context the role of Saivite mystic Lalla vis-à-vis Islam’s emergence in the Valley. The origin and evolution of the Reshi movement should be discussed in terms of its metahistorical archetypal image rather than in purely historical terms. Is Reshiyyat different from Sufism in the same manner in which Saivism and other religious tradition of Kashmir are different from Islam? Is Islamic framework dispensable in Reshiyyat as it developed after Nuruddin? The issue of religious affiliation of Lalla or Buddhist influence on Sheikh Nuruudin is also very controversial. How to make sense of popular perception of Sufi connection of this Saivite mystic? These and other problems are best approached, in the opinion of the present author, by taking recourse to insights of perennialist scholars which are represented by Ananda Coomaraswamy in India.
The story of Islam in Kashmir has largely been a story of Islamic mysticism or Reshiyyat as Islam entered the valley through the efforts of mystics called Sufis and Reshis. The legalist exotericist exclusivist version of Islam that attained dominance in certain regions in the world today could not take roots in Kashmir. Kashmir has been a pir-waer, the land of saints and it is mysticism which has been instrumental in determination of its sensibility. The modernist rationalist historian or an exoteric exclusivist theologian can’t fully deal with the transcendery phenomenon of Reshiyyat, the former being uncomfortable with the supernatural ambience surrounding it while as the latter being uncomfortable with its inclusivism and sulhi-kul (peace with all).
Reshiyyat and the Question of Conversion
Another issue that has been subject of much controversy is Reshis’ role in conversion of non-Muslims. This is also made more complex issue by sensitive issue of conversion itself. For such scholars as Rafiqi the Reshis “didn’t go out to seek adherents to Islam as proclaimed “conscious missionaries”, like the immigrant Sufi and their Kashmiri followers. Not did they act as “high priests” but as the saints who were willing to help the needy on the spiritual path.” (Rafiqi:). In contrast Khan credits them with primary role in Islamization of Kashmir. Again esotericist or metaphysical perspective of perennialist authors could be used as a corrective to limitations of traditional historical scholarship. It is a fact of history that despite their tolerance of other faiths and inclusivism the Sufis from Central Asia and Persia and the Reshis have been instrumental in Islamization of Kashmir. It is only in the integral tradition of a particular religious tradition the seed of mysticism grows and fructifies pace the belief of our syncretists and secularists. Sufism is understandable only in the light of Islam. The question of syncretism and borrowing doesn’t arise if we understand what Frithjof Schuon calls universal orthodoxy of mysticism. The Sufis/Reshis needed to preach Islam as an integral tradition so that the souls could be weaned for their spiritual growth. Esoterism can’t be practiced in isolation from exoteric religion, despite what libertine mystics like Osho and Krishnamurti assert. What I want to point out is that conceptual framework of our scholars of Reshiyyat and Kashmir history suffers from certain limitations, which could be redressed by recourse to perennialist insights. Then only could the sensitive issue of conversion and the Reshis’ role in it be clarified and the process of Islamization of Kashmir understood in its proper context.
Orthodoxy of Reshiyyat
There is also not much warrant for doubting orthodox credentials of Reshi version of Sufism. From the insider’s perspective there is hardly anything such as borrowing from any alien source. The form of spiritual practices and discipline don’t constitute the essence of a mystical tradition like Sufism. Masters of tariqah know that in the path of enlightenment or irfan any practice or mode and discipline are substitutable. It is only a saint like Nuruddin who can decipher the esoteric significance of exoteric dimension (sh’aria) of Islam. There are as many kinds of spiritual practices and disciplines as there are men. There is no such thing as orthodoxy in this context. There is a lack of sound scholarship on mysticism and metaphysics in literature on Reshiyyat. It needs a metaphysician and a mystic of the calibre of Frithjof Schuon (Isa Nuruddin) to clarify the question of origin, orthodoxy/heterodoxy and borrowings in case of Reshi movement. It is the end of the quest or path i.e., enlightenment or irfan (gnosis) that is important for the mystic. Paths, the practices and th e modes of discipline are variable even within the same silsilah sometimes. These can’t be made the basis for labelling and categorizing such saints as Nuruddin and Lalla.
One can’t properly speak of Reshiyyat as Reshiyyat because “ism” has the connotation of an ideological system. However the suffix ism has now been used widely on even such non-ideological traditions as Sufism so we may retain the use of such terms as Reshiyyat but without understanding thereby that it is name of an ideology. One can say that Reshiyyat is not a name of some entity over and against different integral religious traditions. It is not a rival religious or philosophical tradition. It is the esoteric and metaphysical content of these religions.
The God of Islam is synonymous with truth (God is named the Truth in the Quran) and truth has infinite faces, aspects and layers. One can’t impose a version of Islam as orthodox and disqualify all divergent interpretations. The Quran and the Prophetic traditions contain inexhaustible treasures of meaning and are vulnerable to potentially countless interpretations. Purely literal understanding of Islam is impossible. Even an uncompromising Zahiri exotericist or literalist theologians is bound to resort to non-literal interpretation at certain places. All truths are mediated through our linguistic, cultural and conceptual filters. So labelling certain interpretation such as Reshi interpretation of Nurudduin as deviant or heterodox is to be guilty of what Lyotard calls meaning closure. Strictures of certain exoteric authorities regarding the Islamic credentials of mystically inclined Kashmiri people’s understanding of Islam reflect an imposition of certain totalistic and totalizing preconceived ideological reduction of Islam at the hands of these exotericists. Islam has not outlawed any interpretation as long as the frame of reference is the Quran and Sunna. Islam resists and transcends all totalistic ideological reductions because of its universality and timelessness.
There are some huge misunderstandings about the Reshis’ attitude to orthodox religious forms. For instance, the issue of Sufi connection of this Saivite mystic Lalla is a problem for exoteric authorities. She inherited and organically fused in her own way Saivism, Upansadic wisdom and Sufism. Her transcendence of dualist plane is revealed by the fact that her religious identity is still a matter of dispute. The message of Nuruddin and Lalla is hardly distinguishable. Saivism comes close to Islamic metaphysical doctrines and Sufistic “wahdatul wajoodi” thought and that accounts for Lalla being at home in either of them. It doesn’t regard phenomenal world as unreal but as the self expression of Siva, His poem, His art. It, like Islam, sees God both as Immanent (Shakti) as well as Transcendent (Siva). A Reshi is a bird of lamakaan and every attempt to circumscribe him in conceptual categories or theological labels that are derived from makaan or time is a category mistake. The realm of eternity is incommensurable with the realm of time. In God’s proximity all labels must drop as that station is attained only by the surrender of finite self and individuality before the Nameless Infinite.
One can loosely take Reshiyyat as Perennial Philosophy as it developed in India. Islam is simultaneously a religion and a metaphysic. So Reshiyyat as traditional metaphysics itself is part of integral Islamic tradition. As Sufism can’t be practiced outside the formal religious universe of Islam according to perennialists so Reshiyyat after Nuruddin needs the supposing framework of Islam. Esotericism isn’t realizable in religious vacuum despite the assertion of libertine mystics to the contrary. Without the background particular religious forms Reshiyyat becomes almost impossible to become a concrete reality. One can loosely say that Reshiyyat as tariqat is the fruit of sha’ria. Over and above Islamic sha’ria Reshiyyat has no inalienable doctrinal or practical principle. Reshiyyat is Kashmiri version of Sufism and if it appropriates and accommodates influence of certain local or indigenous practices it is in keeping with the principle that in every age Sufism needs new formulations and adaptations in consonance with the spirit of that age. Kashmir’s collective unconscious, its archetypal inheritance necessarily needs to be taken into consideration when a spiritual genius such as Nuruddin wishes to Islamize it. Reshi version of Islamic Sufism is the best creative adaptation of Islam with religious universe of Kashmir that had moulded it from centuries. Local context has always affected the expression of the “alien” religious tradition. Such praiseworthy innovations as the practices of loud recitation of durood and awrad in Kashmir make smooth assimilation and penetration of “alien” religious universe possible.
Limitations of Historical Approach to Reshiyyat
No purely historical approach will be able to clarify what Reshiyyat is and make sense of its diverse and rich literature. Only the shell of Reshiyyat enters history. That is why our historians have created more controversies than they have been able to resolve. The core of Reshiyyat which consists of ineffable experience of God can’t be philosophically, theologically or historically approached and analyzed. The Life of Sprit which Reshiyyat actualizes is living life in a spirit of detachment, as a witnessing self. The Spirit transcends all the humdrum of life. It watches and watches without identifying with any of life’s actions and experiences. The philosophy of actionless action or wu wei wei is what mystics or Reshis advocate. The Reshi transcends mind and lives in the space of no-mind as God is revealed only when we transcend time and mind. A purely historical approach that gives much importance to the life lived in time and the life of mind can’t do justice to such a person such as Reshi and his thought that transcends all discursive thought. Authentic life or the life of freedom in mystical perspective is possible only when one transcends ego and the dualistic plane of action, the fret and fever of the life of mind. The joy that the Reshi finds in God is expressed either through dance as in Lalla or in aesthetic contemplation or poetry of love and bliss or in selfless service. What is visible to the historian from the life of Reshi is only a surface or outward face of it.
Reshiyyat does enter history as an institution in a particular spatio-tempioral setting which, however, is to be differentiated from the eternal essence of religion or mysticism. We must not confound the eternal and the temporal dimensions of the Reshi movement. For the temporal setting historical and phenomenological approaches do have ample relevance but must caution against the reductionist tendency that is quite fashionable with modern academic disciplines. It is not a name of an historical movement that began somewhere at sometime in history. It is not in its essence a merely human thing. It is a celestial song, a celestial feast. It is celebration of love and peace that passeth all understanding. It is Kashmiri adaptation of perennial wisdom that is the common property of all traditional civilizations. The modernist rationalist historian or an exoteric exclusivist theologian can’t fully deal with the transcendery phenomenon of Reshiyyat, the former being uncomfortable with the supernatural ambience surrounding it while as the latter being uncomfortable with its inclusivism and sulhi-kul. From the perennialist perspective only a Reshi can authentically talk about Reshiyyat. Reshiyyat aims at self realization which is something very personal and beyond the jurisdiction of any categorical propositional framework. It can’t be discussed, analyzed, proved or refuted in the usual sense of these terms. It is too existential an affair to be handled by abstract philosophical theorizing. It is more akin to a love affair with the Absolute rather than to an abstract philosophy or religious ideology. It is a celestial song, a grand and life long adventure of spirit . It demands transcendence of subject-object duality and that is what metaphysical meaning of tawhid implies. It is a monologue of the Self, heard in silence. It is an unheard melody. It is not a matter of kal (talk) but hal (existential state or taste). It is a concrete living experience. It is synonymous with innocence of becoming and the repose of being. No categorizing conceptual framework could deal with it. Historical/philosophical analytical and ideological appropriations of Reshiyyat may miss its kernel. It is a matter of experience or realization and not of discourse or debate. It demands the whole of our life, a free response to the call from the Absolute.
Societial Dimension of Reshiyyat
Mysticism isn’t a flight into dreamy foggy subjectivity but as manifested in concrete historical milieu is Eternity permeating and informing time as supernatural order suffusing natural order, as heaven showering life giving rain on earth, as Presence transmitting and transforming our baser elements into gold. It is deeply concerned with this worldly problems also. It has a deep social concern. The mystic doesn’t enjoy the solitary bliss of divine vision but like Buddhisatva is concerned with salvation of whole humanity. He returns from his cave, having reached the other shore after crossing the dark night of the soul, into the world of time and space, of evil and suffering, to transform it in accordance with his transcendary vision. He celebrates mystery and beauty of life and shares woes and sufferings of his fellows and leaves forests to jackals and monkeys and caves to rats. He in no way denies life or this world at the cost of the other world, but only uplifts it, transforms it. All these characteristics of mysticism are evidenced in Reshiyyat and its history.
Political readings of Sufism need to be cautiously appraised. Sulhi kul of Sufis is not passive resignation in the face of adverse socioeconomic and political realities. Though Sufism as such has no ideological commitments but it seeks realization of the God of justice. Sufi care of the self is not at the cost of the world of form and colour. Both Saivism and Sufism transcend the dichotomy of the sacred and profane and take ample care to beautify the world. Both are conscious of our historicity, our temporality. The world is not left to dogs. It is a belief of Sufis that rulers are first chosen in the higher world and monitored strictly according to divine standards of justice. Sufism need not be dragged into the service of one’s political belief. Political appropriations of spirituality are at the cost of spirituality itself and always dangerous.
The Sufis have played very important role in the political life of Kashmir. They have been informal advisors to kings. They have been influential in some important decision making. It is a widely shared belief amongst Kashmiri Muslims that Sufis play key role in making and marring of the kingdoms. Most rulers from the great Budshah to Farooq Abdulla, the chairperson and former chief minister, paid obeisance to Sufis, living and dead. The Sufis have been, according to popular belief, closely monitoring performance of authorities in terms of rendering social justice.
Mass Appeal of Sufism
Reshi/Sufi thought has deeply impacted on the development of artistic and literary culture of Kashmir. Sufism has become an integral part of Kashmiri artistic sensibility. Most of the great names in the history of Kashmir Sufism have been great poets. There exists a strong oral literary tradition amongst Sufis. Most Sufis and their students remember great number of verses by heart and routinely sing Sufi poetry in sama gatherings. There are numerous Sufi poets in Kashmir. Almost every Sufi writes poetry as if the latter is a spontaneous expression of a heart tuned to the divine. Sufism has shaped Kashmiri music and given rise to a distinct brand of classical music in Kashmir called Sufiana music All great names in Kashmir literature, until recent times, have been either Reshis or influenced by Reshiyyat. Poetry in Kashmir is either mystic poetry or sort of romantic poetry that we can subsume under the head of mysticism. Many Kashmiris believe that Habba Khatoon wasn’t married to Yusuf Shah and that their relationship was spiritual or platonic. Even modern poets such as Mehjoor, Rahi and Kamil couldn’t afford to extricate themselves from Sufi influences. We need not to be surprised that a mystic verse occurs all of a sudden in their romantic poems. Legends and myths too have been appropriated in mystical terms e.g., five Kashmiri mystic poets have versified the folk story of “Aka-Nandun” and appropriated mystic themes in it. The same is the case with “Heemal Naagraj.” The Gulrez of Maqbool Shah Kralwari, the “Bakawali” of Lassa Khan Fida and such mathnavis and narrative poems as “Heemal Nagraj” appear love poems when superficially read but are “essentially a journey from an outer world towards the inner.” The poet is called gwanimath – a word charged with mystic connotations. Didacticism and certain artistic lacunae don’t generally mar the merit of great mystical poetry of Kashmir.
Sufism in Kashmir embodies one of the most interesting experiments in world spirituality. Here is a test case for integration of different traditions. Reshiyyat appropriates the central insights of four different religions of the world. It expresses the metaphysical core of all religions. Though Reshiyyat no longer survives in the form of a movement it continues to live in and impact essentially Sufistic tradition of Kashmir. The shrine of Nuruddin is still the most respected shrine of Kashmir. Nuuddin is called Alamdar or standard bearer of Kashmir. There is hardly any room for any sectarian or fundamentalist outlook in a predominantly Sufistic culture. But the unfortunate political legacy has precipitated certain communal problems which have been misappropriated by political forces.
Walter Lawrence wrote about Kashmir in his famous The Valley of Kashmir that no niche is without a shrine here. It may well be said that Sufism is today the most popular tradition in Kashmir. It has resisted all attacks and campaigns from legalistic theological schools in recent years. Almost every Kashmiri is a Sufi in making. Sufi gatherings and festivals are spread round the year. Kashmir’s prayer food culture, niyaz culture and shrine culture all testify to the deep influence of Sufism. Kashmir is traditionally called as a land of mystics (pir waer). Here even many mentally deranged people are respected because suspected to be majzoob Sufis. Most families have a family saint. Though newer generations are critical of antinomian tendencies in some Sufis and of pseudoSufis for promoting polytheistic interpretation of Sufism. However the fact remains that Kashmir culture remains an essentially mystical culture.
Perennity of Mysticism in Kashmir
Mysticism survives the change of religious guises in the course of history. The Quran makes it clear that God’s words can’t change or don’t change. The eternal element in religions that perennialists designate as Sophia perennis and the Quran subsumes in the notion of Ad-din is the living element of mysticism. It ensures continuity of religious thought across millennia. Exoteric religion or the form of religions changes but the essence that forms seek to express remains the same. Metaphysics can’t change by definition. God is unchangeable. The Truth is timeless. Metaphysical foundation of all traditional religions is one as perennialists have demonstrated. In Kashmir different traditions have been living and displacing one another and in a way continue to live in different forms today. In fact one may remark here that traditions hardly ever die in the course of history. They get transformed and their spirit gets adapted to newer vehicles. They continue to influence even after their supposed death substituting traditions. This point is illustrated in the fate of Buddhism in Kashmir.
Reshiyyat and Impact of Buddhism
Bu ddhism penetrated into the heart of Hinduism and transformed it from within so much so that the greatest Vedantic philosopher Sankara is accused to be a cryptobuddhist. Buddhism changed its guise and continued to flourish in Saivism of Kashmir. Similar remarks could be made and applied in case of Islam. Neither Buddhism nor Saivism died here. Their essential spirit and many peripheral practices continued to be, in one or the other form, in Rishiyyat or post-Nuruudin Islam in Kashmir. Risshiyyat has appropriated key Buddhistic elements in its practice. A poem composed in honour of Buddha by Sheikh Nuruddin is ample evidence of impact of Buddhist tradition. Buddhist metaphysics of Void, its eightfold path, its four noble truths, its silence towards speculative metaphysical theological issues, its emphasis on orthopraxy rather than any particular view of Ultimate Reality, its pragmatism, its monkish culture, its ahimsa and vegetarianism all could be traced in Risshiyat of Kashmir in the Muslim period. Kashmiris continue to use, both consciously and unconsciously key Buddhist concepts and formulations in their discourse. Kashmiris blame their karma rather than any external factor or force for their suffering. Whenever something untoward happens he cries panien gunah, aamali baden hienz shamat (My bad karma, bitter fruit of bad actions). Many proverbs and folk stories have possible connection with Buddhism. Many traditional Kashmiris seek refuge in God and in Pir which seems to echo Buddhist practice of talking refuge in the Buddha. The world is described as a place of suffering by common Kashmiri (dunya chu tawan). Impermanence of everything is asserted by such common sayings as dunya chu napayidar, yaet kya chu rozwun(nothing stays long in the world). “Permanence” is attributed to Spirit or Absolute only, to Void in Buddhist terms. “Rozuwun chu bas tamsund naw”(God’s name or Essence alone is permanent) is a common saying in Kashmir. One can cite many more similar expressions used in different contexts of which we can find equivalent in Buddhism.
Kashmir remains a land of the Buddha despite centuries of oblivion of Buddhism. Buddhism never really disappeared in Kashmir. It impacted on deeper structures and in subtle ways on Kashmir’s history, religion and culture and its impact continues. It continues to live in Muslim Kashmir, not to speak of Leh etc. Contemporary Muslim Kashmir is not understandable without appreciating impact and living presence of Buddhism.
Islam in Kashmir is a fulfillment of socially engaged egalitarian Buddhist project rather than a new faith that negated the spirit of Buddhism and usurped its throne by force. Buddhism is not history here and its study is not of merely historical importance. It lives in archetypes and as a metaphysical and mystical darsana it can’t be exiled from the collective unconscious of Kashmiris. Of course its distinct identity may be nonexistent now but it doesn’t bother about its distinct identity. Wherever people attempt to conquer suffering and identify desire, the desiring self (nafsi amara) as the culprit) and seek the light (nur in the Quranic terminology) out of existential darkness that constitute samsaric becoming there Buddhism lives. Buddha will have nothing new to teach our Sufis and Sufism, properly understood and shorn of its theological dress, is living and authentic expression of timeless wisdom of which historical Buddhism was one expression.
Buddhism has a very sublime conception of tawhid, understood metaphysico-mystically. Originally it rejected image worship. It completely rejected anthropomorphism in its theology. It guarded against shirk so successfully that even now after centuries of development and even distortion Buddhism refuses to allow any human conception of the Ultimate Reality any validity and strictly advocates silence. Kashmiri Sufi poets have appropriated essential Buddhism in their conceptions of fana, devotion to Unitarianism, and sublime conception of divine transcendence. Qadir Sb Keyna is a Sufi poet who has specifically composed verses on void. “I am the Void, you are the Void/ What shall I speak of the Void.” Lalla’s vaakhs too have echoes of the Buddhist formulation regarding the Void. Nuruddin Reshi, popularly called the Sheikhul Alam (world teacher) has emphasized mingling of the Void and Shiva and thus foregrounding Islamic integral metaphysical formulations that take care of both the positive and the negative divine. Negation of all gods in Islamic terminology is what Buddhism asserts in its doctrine of impermanence of all manifested things. Kashmiri Sufi vision is strongly centred on this negative view of divine. A Kashmiri is fond of using tasbih and forms of collective meditation such as durood and azkar. Relic culture has Buddhist origins. Keeping photographs of pirs and parents and grandparents is a substitute for image culture which flourished from Buddhist times in Kashmir.
Though none can deny differences at theological plane the question is what differentiates Islam from Buddhism in such sharp terms at metaphysical or ethical plane. Metaphysical unity of diverse traditions which claim to be founded on religious experience of its founders has been amply demonstrated by various scholars, most importantly and most cogently and forcefully by perennialists. Theological differences when translated in terms of more foundational metaphysical or esoteric principles (of which theologies are distant and inexact or crude translations) get dissolved and can be easily reconciled. Let us analyze differences between Buddhism and Islam of which such critics as Harun Yaha make much fuss.
The doctrine of rebirth, anatta, absence of theism or “agnosticism,” different doctrines concerning hell and heaven, asceticism or world negation, which are part of Buddhism are found to be irreconcilable with Islam according to most scholars. But a deeper analysis of all these doctrines reveals remarkable convergence with Islamic doctrines. Here a very brief explication of these doctrines could be attempted in the following paragraphs.
There is no such thing as rebirth understood in animistic sense of transmigration of soul or personality in integral traditions according to Comaraswamy. God is the only transmigrant as Shankara put it. There is no reality behind the façade of ego/personality which could survive and transmigrate according to all religions. As long as man is trapped in the illusion that there is really a person So and so he is condemned to suffer and in the symbolic language of Scriptures to rebirth. Really there is no birth, no autonomous soul or self, no death. The Buddha taught suffering bred from illusion of desiring self and a way of escape from it. About the whither and whence of souls he is not concerned. His problem is salvation or conquest over suffering and ignorance. Islam too has not entertained discussion over those questions which have no bearing on human salvation. Discussion divine Essence, destiny, eschatological states, origin of the world of manifestation are not encouraged. The only problem is correct knowledge or right view which leads to right conduct, to God or Truth.
The doctrine of annata is the integral part of Islamic conception. Only the Spirit, a transindividual faculty, the luminous centre of consciousness/knowledge is immortal or divine element in man. The body and the soul are subject to sin and suffering. The Spirit transcends all the individualities of existence and is not liable to sin or corruption. The Spirit constitutes our buddha nature. Nirvana is a blissful experience because our Spirit is made of the substance of joy or ananda. Sufism ceaselessly talks about transcendence of nafs or desiring soul. The Quran asserts mortality of the soul (nafs) in clear terms (“for every individual soul is death” it says). All compounded things are mortal but the spirit is not a compounded thing. It is not born and death can’t approach it.
About the posthumous states there also is little difference amongst traditions. The final destination is no destinat ion, the Garden of Essence where there is no separate individual desiring self hankering for pleasures. It is a state of utter contentment where Spirit comes to enjoy its eternal repose. Like parinirvanic state it is a state of unalloyed bliss. All seeking, all questioning is laid to rest. Nirvana is unimaginable as is the joy of contemplating God in the other world. Seeing God one is lifted above all cares and transcends all desires. Nirvana too is a state of cessation of desires. For the soul under divine tuition there are states and stations in hells and heavens according to Buddhism. Islam is in essential agreement with the conception of posthumous life on different planes. Hell is not the everlasting abode of any sinner. The flames of hell are finally cooled. Eternity belongs to God only and not to any created or manifested realm. God is the only Permanent entity. “Everything is annihilated and only God’s face remains” declares the Quran.
The question of theism/atheism loses its significance from the Sufistic metaphysical viewpoint. When doctrine of tawhid is approached as Unity of Existence the question of personal divinity is almost bracketed off. Personal God of Muslim theology is not the Absolute of Buddhism and Islamic metaphysics. The former is in Divine Relativity and the Absolute transcends it.
It must be acknowledged that Buddhism is less open to the graces emanating from the world of hue and colour. Islam takes a more positive view of the world, of women and sexuality, of seculer pursuits. However Buddhism too, according to Mahayana school, declares samsara and nirvana as one. It too is compatible with worldly pursuits taken up in the sprit of detachment.
Attachment to doctrines, to rituals, to forms is to be transcended for attaining the ultimate goal. Buddhism has no quarrel with any religion, no truck with identity problem. The dispute for superiority of a doctrine or creed is vain from a Buddhist viewpoint thatis committed to no-view or transcendence of all views. Buddha is a mirror with no form of its own. It is the plain light of Spirit that shines inside all of us. Kashmiri Sufis have often used the metaphor of mirror for the arrived souls and for expressing the mystery of creation. The only significant question from Buddhist viewpoint is how free we are from the bondage of desires and attachments to perishing things. All other questions are secondary. Buddhism can enter into a dialogue with world traditions so readily because it has no views of its own to impose. Kashmir as a land of Rishis has been a land of Buddhist Reshis. Reshi movement of Kashmir has appropriated Buddhist wisdom and made it a part of Kashmir culture and heritage. What emerges from the above discussion is that there is little divergence at deeper mystical-metaphysical plane between Buddhism and Islam. It is no wonder that Islam found a receptive audience in the Buddhist world. I wonder why some Buddhist leaders of Kashmir should be pained at Rinchana’s conversion and see it as betrayal of Buddhist community.
The Question of Identity
It is the question of identity of Kashmiris that has been hotly debated in recent times. In the light of perennialist insights this vexed issue could be resolved in a satisfactory way. We can’t write off any period of history or any of the major traditions Kashmir has been hosting in determining its present identity. Here we may turn to Reshiyyat and its revivalist Nuruddin who is acknowledged as the patron saint of the valley by both Hindus and Muslims. He is remembered as Sheikhul Alam or Jagat Guru (The World Teacher) by Muslims and as Shahjanand (The Blessed One) by Hindus. Reshiyyat that can’t be identified with or subsumed under any one historical movement or religious tradition and thus provides a transcendentally grounded identity. Nationalistic and religious appropriations of Kashmiryat (lately introduced term for Kashmiri consciousness and identity) are not quite warranted have been increasingly questioned in recent times. We must note that Kashmir’s identity can’t be defined in isolation from the distinct mystical and metaphysical ethos that has traditionally defined Kashmir. Kashmir has housed or appropriated most of the major world traditions. It has been argued that to its sacred ambience most of great religions and civilizations – Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim – have contributed. Reshiyyat seeks to transcend all local, regional, divisive identities perpetrated by various groups and to be grounded in the universal or cosmic or divine Reshi identity that duly encompasses and appropriates other identities as well. Shiekh Nuruddin and Lalla, the patron saints of Kashmir, have emphasized transcendence of all identities of self, caste, race, nationality and even religion taken in its exclusivist sense. In the Sheikh’s universalistic inclusivist humanitarian transcendental cosmopolitan vision of Reshiyyat could alone be true Kashmiriyat grounded. Kashmir has been hosting some of the most important world religions and has been largely unfamiliar with sectarian strife. Its values of tolerance and non-violence are attributable to its mystical (Reshi) identity. Reshiyyat should be taken not in the narrow historical sense as a cult of Sheikh Nuruddin but in the wider sense as mystical dimension of Kashmir and that alone safeguards its universalism.
Kashmir’s resistance to all sectarian divisive identities and cults, to exclusivist fundamentalist dogmatic theological voices and to this worldly oriented secular visions that are divorced from the wellsprings of transcendence is attributable to its deep mystical ethos. It has been more interested in exploring inner landscape, in the great adventure of consciousness than in looting and plundering the neighboring territories. Believing in the gospel of truth and love it has not worshipped the Mammon of power and it has too readily succumbed to political subjugation from non-natives. Its cosmopolitan consciousness has assimilated Sayyids and Pathans, Mugals and Dogras. It knows no nationalism in the constricted sense of the term. Like India it has been a soft target of all imperialist forces. But it must be noted that the hell modern man is in is because the mystical gospel of love and compassion that has been promulgated by Reshis has been forgotten. In a postmodern globalized transnationalistic world only the kind of identity that mysticism gives could give us an abiding peace. All borders are becoming irrelevant and it is the renunciatory ethic that gives us transcendent grounding and identity that needs to be foregrounded.
Reshiyyat vis-à-vis Hinduism and Islam
It is also to be noted that Hinduism or Buddhism and Islam are not as divergent at deeper level as exotericist theological reading of Islam would have us believe. Originally every human collectivity has been blessed by the presence of prophets according to the Quran. Vedanta, Kashmir Saivisnm and Buddhism are not dualistic or polytheistic but essentially Unitarian or tawhid centred traditions if one grants Sufistic-metaphysical understanding of tawhid as the correct view of it in place of dualistic theological reading. These are all Absolute-centric tradition and this Absolute is not to be subsumed under the theistic theology. At the level of Absolute (Zat) theism is transcended. Islam and other religions are not opposed in fundamentals of faith as all have originally been recipients of revelation in accordance with the Quranic dictum that all human collectivities have received revelation. Despite distortions and extrapolations in subsequent centuries it is still possible to unearth the core of Tawhid in these religions. Spiritually or mystically one can easily see how all religions are oriented towards God and none allows associating partners with God, the popular “polytheistic” idolatrous interpretation or mask of Hinduism not withstanding as it is quite heterodox reading of originally monistic/monotheistic traditions. Tawhid, according to the Quran, is the one message of all prophets and if we present ly see anything that deviates from pristine conception of Unitarianism or Tawhid it is surely a product of misinterpretation according to perennialists. But one must first be sure that some doctrine alleged to be polytheistic/animistic etc. is really so. It needs great mastery in comparative religion to be able to understand different doctrinal formulations in different religions. There are few comparativists in the world, not to speak of Kashmir. Dismissive remarks and generalizations are too readily made betraying one’s ignorance of the traditions in question. Just one instance may suffice here. Abdul Wahid Yaha and Isa Nuruddin, arguably the greatest metaphysicians and authorities on comparative religion in the 20th century, demonstrate that there is no pantheism, no idealism, no rebirth, no individualist subjectivist mysticism as ordinarily understood in orthodox Hindu traditions.
Some critics here are needlessly apologetic about using the word Reshi by Sheikh Nuruddin. It suffices to mention that it was the Sheikh who opted for this terminology and found no need of another term such as Wali for describing himself and his disciples. Had the Shiekh adopted the strategy suggested by our critics which emphasizes differences instead of common points and wishes to prove that the advent of Islam was a radical break from the traditional past of Kashmir Islam could hardly have been firmly planted in Kashmir. It was great catholic, assimilating and appropriating genius of the great Shiekh to Islamize Reshi movement and it opened natives for Islam. Loud recital of durood, awrad etc. was another strategy to show Islam’s assimilating potential. Thank God Syed Ali Hamdani had no advisors to censure him for these “unIslamic” innovations as otherwise Islam’s diffusion in the masses would have been more difficult. Our Sufi poets have appropriated pre-Islamic notions and allusions and nothing can be done to edit them from a supposedly Islamic perspective. Sufis are at home in different traditions and don’t feel Islam is polluted or in danger if one appropriates other than Islamic mythological or linguistic resources.
It must be noted that Sufism can’t be practized outside the doctrinal framework of Islam. The fact is that the post-Nurudin Kashmir is Islamic Kashmir that has already appropriated the best of spiritual genius of India. Islamized Reshiyyat appropriates, for all practical purposes, Buddhist, Saivite and other Indian traditional philosophical thought currents and is not to be construed as an appendage to them. By practicing Islam in all its depths, one practices all religions, as Abdul Wahid Yaha (Rene Guenon) said who wrote, despite being a Muslim, many greatly acclaimed and sympathetic work on Hinduism. We must not allow encroaching of Islamic identity of Sufism or present day Reshiyyat in the name of superficial syncretism. It is not for nothing that many of the greatest spiritual minds of the 20th century in the West became Sufis. Muslims don’t need to look here and there in the past for inspiration and metaphysics. Saivism, Buddhism etc. are to be read as historical religions in Kashmir and as independent traditions and not to be confounded with or grafted with or privileged in any sense against the Islamic context and framework of present Reshi thought. We need to respect uniqueness of all traditions and not attempt syncretism.
Some further clarifications are in order to put in right perspective the charge of Brahamanism against Kashmiri Muslims. Sufism isn’t to be confused with Vedantic Islam or Islam in Vedantic dress. Rumi’s or Ibn Arabi’s Unitarian (as distinguished from dualist monotheistic exoteric Islamic) perspective has also been well appropriated in orthodox terms. Islam has shielded diverse theological, mystical and philosophical schools in its history. Its tradition is far more catholic than usually conceded. The catholicity of Sufism is well known and if we grant that Sufism is indeed the esoteric dimension of Islam and not an alien growth on its soil we hardly need to argue for universalism or catholicity of Islam. Some passages of Ibn Arabi would appropriate even seeming atheists in the salvific scheme. In fact much to the delight of many ecumenists Islam transcends theistic/nontheistic binary. Islam is acceptance of truth in its widest sense. It isn’t an interpretation of truth despite the claim of exclusivists to the contrary. Islam doesn’t talk about truth but talks truth. It is witnessing the truth and that truth is the truth of Infinite and All-Possibility. The Quran identifies God as Al- Haqq or the Real. Truth has no face; it has infinite aspects. Whatever partakes of the Reality or truth is affirmed in Islamic shahadah which is translated by the Sufis and perennialists as “There is no reality but Reality.” Islam means surrender to God, Truth and Reality, for God is Al- Haqq. It is too inclusive to be guilty of any exclusion which Foucault and others fear Thus Islam shields a great heterogeneity and the image of pure monolithic homogenous traditional Islam isn’t vindicated by its history, the protest from certain ultra orthodox sections notwithstanding. To be a Muslim is to be in a placeless place. He declares with Rumi (who is generally recognized by the orthodoxy as one of the greatest representatives of esoterism):
I have expelled duality from myself. I have seen the two worlds as one
Let me seek one, say one, know one and desire one
He the First, He the Last, He the Manifest, He the Hidden./Without Him and other than Him nothing else I know.
I am drunk with the soul of love and the two worlds have passed from my hand
Further remarks seem to be warranted here for elaborating Sufi view of man- God relationship which has been misinterpreted by exoteric critics of Islam and Hinduism. The first premise of the doctrine of unity to which Rumi and the Ibn Arabi adhered is the vision of God in man, be it male (Shams in case of Rumi) or female (Nizam in case of Ibn Arabi) before which one feels one’s nothingness. It is after this vision of God, and love for it, that one strives to attain God Himself and finally becomes His vision, His proof (Ali), His testimony, Shahid (Hallaj) or His manifestation (Ibn Arabi), the perfect man. God and the world/man according to the Quran aren’t two poles apart. God is the other, the ideal pole of man as far as the latter is the Spirit or the abode of the Spirit (God having breathed the Spirit in him). Man as an ego or soul, as creature is of course not one with God. Ibn Arabi for whom God is the essence of all existence including man was nevertheless emphatic in maintaining that man can never become God and vice versa. Islam rejects hulul in no uncertain terms. It is only when the ego is gone in the experience of fana and only God remains that An’al Haq (I am the truth can be asserted). In fact this claim is made by the Spirit which is in man but is not his. The Quran’s conception of Unity perceives both God and the man as the two aspects of reality by underlying the apparent duality of God and the world/man on the one hand and their essential oneness on the other. This is best manifested in the Quranic conception of Jesus, who was a man like any other human being but he was at the same time the word of God (kalimatullah) or the one in whom God had breathed His own spirit (Ruhullah). The Sufi conception of the perfect man or Insan-i-Kamil also problematizes the absolutization of man-God polarity. The question of man’s relation to God is better approached from the Absolute-relative rather than the Lord-creature framework as the perennialist metaphysicians have argued. Theological controversies are resolvable at the metaphysical plane and it is losing sight of this point that has contributed to unwarranted dualistic polemical quibbles between Sufis and different theological schools and between Hindus and Muslims. The Quran emphasizes both God’s transcendence as well as His immanence in creation (man/world). A typical verse in this connection is “Nothing is like Him and He is the Hearing, the Seeing.”
How perennialists reread theological differences may be shown with reference to the notion of Avatara in Hindu traditions. As Schuon explains:
Muhammad was not and could not be an Avatara; but this is not really the question because it is perfectly obvious that Islam is not Hinduism and notably excludes any idea of incarnation (hulul); quite simply, and using Hindu terminology, which is the most direct or the least inadequate, we would reply that a certain Divine aspect took on under particular cyclic circumstances a particular earthly form, something in full conformity with what the Envoy of Allah testified as to his own nature…,
In any case, if the attribution of divinity to an historical personage is repugnant to Islam, that is because its perspective is centred on the Absolute as such, as is show for instance in the conception of the final leveling before the Judgment: God alone in this conception remains ‘living’ and all else is leveled in universal death including the supreme Angels, and so also even the ‘Spirit’ (Er-Ruh), the divine manifestation at the luminous centre of the cosmos (Schuon,1963:90-91).
For Schuon (Isa Nuruddin) Islam is the way of intelligence; it is simply objective perception of the Reality. Allah means Reality, Truth as such which both transcendent and immanent. Islam in its deepest meaning is ‘that which is everywhere’ And ‘that which has always been’(Schuon, 1963:104) and the Prophet represents both universality and primordiality (Schuon, 1963:104). Perennialist perspective conceives Muhammad as Logos, as pole of existence, as one through whom God is known, manifested. As a spiritual principle the Prophet is not only the Totality of which we are separate parts or fragments, he is also the Origin in relation to which we are so many deviations; in other words the Prophet as norm is not only the ‘Whole Man’ but also ‘Ancient Man’(Schuon, 1963:103). Thus to be as Muslim doesn’t require belief in a certain proposition, a certain narrative or an ideology. It transcends all linguistic and conceptual categories and thought constructions. Metaphysics isn’t absolutization of certain viewpoint or aspect to the exclusion of other possible perspectives. It is the vision of totality of the Real as such and this is achieved by transcendence of merely rational faculty, by becoming a mirror that will reflect the truth, the Essence. Intuition of the mystic isn’t subject to any critique such as that of deconstruction. It is prereflective prelignuistic apprehension.
Schuon explains the limitations of the theological approach and thus of all those statements made by exoteric authorities while appraising doctrines of other traditions.
The ordinary monotheist theologies are hardly capable of giving adequate account of theism, owing to the fact that they operate only with the utterly inadequate alternatives of the “created and the uncreated.” For these theologies there is only God and the world m the creator and the created, whereas inn reality, there is first of all the Absolute and the relative, and then within Relativity itself, the Uncreated Creator, not the Uncreated in itself and all creation… .The alternative in question could be transposed to the Divine level and the distinction between the “created” and the “Uncreated” expressed instead as a distinction between the’ “personal God” and the “impersonal Divinity”, and hence between “Being” and “Beyond-Being”( Schuon, 1963: 185-86).
Schuon doesn’t see any essential contradiction between Muslim and Hindu eschatologies unlike exoterism that finds them simply irreconcilable. He finds the meeting point between the monotheistic eschatology of Islam and Indian “transmigrationism” in the concepts of Limbo and Hell and also in the ‘resurrection of the flesh’ in which the being isn’t however invested with a new individuality (Schuon, 1969:139). Ananda Coomaraswamy, Schuon and other perennialists reject popular animistic conception of rebirth as do they reject exotericist conception of afterlife, of perpetuity of hell or eternal damnation.
Sufism and nondualistic Saivism are, from the perennialist viewpoint, subsumable under the rubric of common traditional metaphysics as both share the conceptions of Absolute and nondualism. Both advocate almost analogous schemes of descent of the Absolute towards the increasingly grosser or impure states of existence. Both share a realist ontology taking the world of phenomena as real rather than illusory as they share the understanding of Divine Relativity or Maya. We see affirmative transcendence in both of them. Both recognize the importance of diverse approaches to God realization. Both are against a renunciatory life negating ascetism as they believe in metaphysical transparency of phenomena. Sufistic Unitarian perspective harbours an epistemology that could readily appropriate Kashmir Saivistic doctrine of recognition or pratibijna. Both see man as microcosmos. Mystical disciplines or meditational techniques and spiritual anthropology and psychology in both traditions show a remarkable convergence. Exoteric/esoteric division and a respect for exoteric formulations are noticeable in both traditions. One can also discern convergence in metaphysics of Beauty between the two traditions. However if we approach the two traditions from purely theological viewpoint certain differences are easily noticeable. Theology and metaphysics are confusingly mixed in usual expositions of Saivism. A lack of philosophical rigour in theistic appropriations of Saivism is evident. Panentheistic reductionist tendency in most of modern expositions of nondualistic Saivism compromises orthodox or traditional character of Saivism. There is a need of approaching Saivism from the perennialist perspective to put Saivism in the proper context of traditional Indian darsanas. Dualistic schools of Saivism are to be seen as stopping short of pure metaphysics. We need to reject against fashionable uniformitarian syncretistic approach to Saivism and Sufism and attempt to situate them in their respective traditions of Vedantic and Islamic frameworks that respects their unique character and different theologies while also emphasizing their shared metaphysics.
Reshiyyat and Environmentalism
Perennialists have made major strides in ecological reading of the sacred scriptures. The great relevance of perennialist perspectives lies in pointing out metaphysical errors of modern man and science that have contributed to ecological crisis. However they have been compelled to lean primarily on premodern traditional civilizations while showing the concrete examples of practice of ecological wisdom. I think we could point out to Kashmir as living example of traditional outlook that concretely embodies ecological consciousness even today. A very important dimension of Reshi thought is its ecological consciousness and that makes it vitally relevant to the world that has lost ecological health. The Reshi’s aversion to causing injury to all animate beings including plants, insects and animals; their concern for conserving forests; dissuading hunters from hunting hangul; personal care of pets, tamed animals and birds; planting trees throughout the length and breadth of Kashmir – all these things show how deeply eco-conscious has been the Reshi movement. Long before ecological crises occurred Shiekh Nuruddin had anticipated it. Mysticism provides the only valid ideological framework for practizing sound ecology. Kashmir has traditionally been ecologist’s paradise. How ecological consciousness has been achieved in Kashmir is a forgotten chapter of history of ecology and it is again our duty to present ecological face of Kashmiri Reshiyyat to the world. Shiekh Nuruddin could well be proposed as patron saint of ecology.
Appraisal of Major Criticisms of Kashmir Mysticism
Kashmir’s mystical credentials have been questioned only very recently by some circles. Progressivist writers found fault with Kashmir’s mystical bias. Mo re recently some exotericist theologians have questioned authenticity of Kashmiri Muslim identity as they believe mysticism to be alien to Islamic tradition. Sheikh Nuruddin has been seen as social reformer and preacher rather than a mystic. To these points one may reply that for good or worse Kashmiris are mystically oriented. I think it is for good in the age that swears by pluralism and is fed up with self styled advocates of God. It is gross misreading of the text of Sheikh Shruks and history to write off the mystic in the great Sheikh. Sufism understood as spiritual dimension of Islam is inalienable from it. Nothing in Islam makes sense except in light of this spiritual dimension. AntiSufi rhetoric is modernist heresy. It is good to censure excesses and perversions and misuses of Sufism in Kashmir but to reject the esoteric in the name of literalism and supposed fidelity to scripture is quite unacceptable. Sufism is the metaphysical face or even basis of Islam. History of Islam is largely the history of its saints and philosophers and mystically oriented ulema. The most illustrious thinkers of Islam have been influenced by Sufism. Islamic art and architecture is incomprehensible without the knowledge of Sufi symbolism. Kashmir’s arts and crafts express Sufi symbolism. From turban to carpets everywhere we see symbolism in work. No wonder the Dargahs of Hazratbal, of Makhdoom Saheb and of Sheikh Nuruddin continue to attract millions of Kashmiris today.
Mysticism in Kashmir has been attempting to obliterate class and creedal divisions. Shrines have been acting as public guest houses providing food and shelter to anyone regardless of class. Shrines act as cohesive and integrating centers. They are retreat centers. Today newer generations nostalgically recall their immediate past that is believed to incarnate certain values of simplicity, honesty, purity of conduct and thought which we usually associate with saintly life.
One may point out that class analysis of Kashmir society is yet to be made. But one needs to note that Reshis were not complicit with ruling class. Neither were they associated with the rich. It might be objected that they were parasitic on common people’s properties. This too is contravened by history. It is only recently that a class of beggers and begger priests has been thriving in the name of past saints.
Mysticism is a million dollar industry in Kashmir according to critics. Of course abuse of mysticism is a huge industry in itself but we need to note that mysticism contributes significantly to Kashmir economy. Shrines are amongst the most visited tourist spots. Local tourism is largely concentrated on shrines. Much donation money is with Wakf Board which could be used to finance thousands of welfare projects if steps are taken in this direction. The Board could well experiment with a variation of interest free Grammein banking or Islamic banking that could potentially benefit thousands. Prayer food culture is a huge industry in Kashmir that contributes to cohesion of social bonds as well.
There is a pir class, occultist class and the class of so-called majzoobs that largely exploit the name of mysticism and contribute to discrediting it in the eyes of many. A large number of social drop outs and parasites support their living by masquerading as mystics. Salafi onslaught against abuses of mysticism in Kashmir is not quite unwarranted. Illiteracy and gullibility of local people contributes to their exploitation at the hands of many dabblers in the spirit business, black magic and the like.
Mystic class continues to be among the most influential one in today’s Kashmir though some mystics claim that there is hardly any genuine mystic living today. Too many are masquerading as mystics as mysticism sells like anything and could be resorted as a means of livelihood by all kinds of charlatans.
Mysticism is the best antidote to communalism and sectarianism. Communal violence does flare up occasionally. But it is ironic to note that the religious group playing the card of mysticism (Berelvees) is also the most dogmatic in certain issues and highly rejectionist and exclusivist. There are few traceable or accessible authentic mystics and mystical thinkers in Kashmir today. The serious and systematic study of mysticism is yet to be a prerogative of any academic institution. Masses are either simplistic believers in claimants of mystical power or alienated from the founts of traditional mystical wisdom on account of propaganda from certain antimystical quarters.
Reshiyyat vs. Humanism
Reshiyyat is often labelled as humanistic tradition . This is incorrect because humanism is a loaded term that arose in the Western against theocentricism of traditional Christianity. Reshiyyat though stressing the dignity of man as a mystical and metaphysical worldview is an antithesis of humanism which severs all ties with transcendence and defies man at the cost of God.. It shifts the emphasis from Being to being, from Nature to man, from universalism to individualism, from metaphysics to science. It rejects heart in favour of head. In place of traditional pontifical man it puts Promethean Faustian man. Man is considered as an end in himself. It takes man for granted as he stands, and takes man the world of man’s experience as it has come to seem to him. Man is defined as or identified with Ego. Science and reason are its idols. Supernatural or higher degrees of reality or vertical dimension is rejected by such different varieties of humanism as Huxley’s evolutionary humanism, Sartre’s existential humanism, secular theological humanism or scientific humanism, Marxist humanism. Humanism in Guenon’s words implies a pretension to bring everything down to purely human elements and thus to exclude everything of a supraindividual order. Sartre thus gives a representative humanist statement “There is no other universe except the human universe, the universe of human subjectivity… This is humanism, because we remind man that there is no legislator but himself: that he himself, thus abandoned must decide for himself” It surrenders not to God but to human finitude and severes all ties with transcendence. Humanistic theologian by identifying the Truth of God with this worldly truth degrades the essence of religion.
Contemporary Significance of Reshiyyat
Regarding contemporary significance of Reshiyyat which has been challenged by certain modernists it may be remarked that for modern man salvation and recovery of meaning could be possible only through the mystical. If theology no longer convinces and philosophy stands challenged from various quarters it is mysticism alone that fits the bill – it is no wonder that many (post)modern writers and philosophers are mystically oriented. Reshiyyat as a formulation of timeless perennial philosophy can’t be dead as long as man remains man in need of transcendence. Reshis have not been inflexible with regard to any dietary, juristic, theological, meditational prescriptions. No institutional framework is indispensable for practising mysticism. All of us who take transcendence or sacred seriously are Reshis or would-be-Reshis, to a little or greater extent. Man is condemned to be a meaning seeking or self transcending creature. He is bound to transcend himself and look heavenward if he is not to be reduced to beastly status. God is the ideal pole of man. He is our “ultimate concern.” Any search for fuller and larger life, a more creative life, a more celebratory and more authentic life, is basically a search for God as God is really another name for Life. This is the purport of the Quranic name al-Hayy for God. God is our Environment (al-Muhit) as the Quran says. We live by transcendence and breath it. Transcendence is accessible through search for values. According to Plato anyone who chooses to seek beauty, truth and goodness (the three defining attributes of God) would qualify as a lover of wisdom or mystic. Man is properly called human only when he seeks to realize these values. In broader terms we can say that we are all t ravellers on the path (salikeen) of Reshiyyat. All travelers on the path of life who have faith in life and seek to beautify it are in a way Reshis.
There is something about Kashmir mysticism whether Saivist or Sufistic that makes it quite interesting and relevant for modern man. Its attitude of affirmative transcendence, affirmation of world and life, despite its renunciatory ethic or asceticism characterizes Kashmiri mysticism. If Shiva is all or God is the only existent then by affirming life we affirm God. The body too is a temple of God and thus its needs can not be ignored. There is no escapism but positive acceptance of Immanent existence. “Don’t torment your body with the pangs of thirst and hunger/Whenever it feels exhausted take care of it.” For a non-dualist Reshi like Lalla there is no difference between “I” and the “other”(par te pan); immanence and transcendence, universal and individual; consciousness, subjective and objective reality being but aspects of the ultimate reality which is indivisible.
Reshiyyat is not dead or history; it continues to live as it has always been living in the unconscuious or preconscious of Kashmiris. It continues to inform our movement forward in history and every aspect of Kashmiri culture and spirituality. “Shiekh Nuruddin’s verse dominates preacher’s sermon at pulpit, it has been lulled on the strings of Sufiana musician, it along with Lal waakh devises the introductory tunes of light music Chakri, it is quoted by the house wife when the souring prices exhaust has small purse and it is usually quoted by common voters against the monkeys of such ruling cheques which misrule the country. The piercing sarcasm against Mulla retains its freshness.” He is living in the language that he helped to shape. One could well transpose the words of French president de Gaul about Sartre on him and assert, “Shiekh is Kashmir.”
Eco-conscious earthly “matriarchal” socially conscious world-view of Reshiyyat is presently being advocated as a remedy of so many ills that affect not only Kashmir but also the whole globe. The need is to interpret Reshi message in contemporary language. This contemporary language that postmodern man can understand is not the language of moralism or theology but the wordless language of mysticism. Only the religion of the heart, whose language is silence, is experiential and existential and is synonymous with selfless service of man could be the religion of (post)modern man and in the context of Kashmir what else besides Reshiyyat, which after Nuruddin is an adaptation of Islamic esoteric kernel, could provide it. Sufism of which Reshiyyat now is a tested historical manifestation has the best resources to address our post-Nietzschean postmodern ages that claims to be posttheological.
1 The emotional element nowhere plays a bigger part than in the “mystical” form of religious thought. Contrary to the prevalent opinion he declares that mysticism, from the very fact that it is inconceivable apart from the religious point of view, is quite unknown in the East. (Guenon, 1945:124) “The influence of sentimental element obviously impairs the intellectual purity of the doctrine. This falling away from the standpoint of metaphysical thought occurred generally and extensively in the Western world because there feeling was stronger than intelligence and this has reached its climax in modern times.” (Guenon, 1945:125) Modern theistic appropriations of mystical experience by choosing to remain at the level of theology and not cognizing the metaphysical point of view (that brilliantly and convincingly appropriates such apparently divergent varieties of mystical and metaphysical realization as that of Buddhism and Christianity) cannot claim total truth as theology itself cannot do so. And it is not always possible to fully translate metaphysical doctrines in terms of theological dogmas. Antimetaphysical anthropomorphism comes to the fore in this realm of individual variations. Reshiyyat is thus misdescribed as mystical. However it has been almost universally used to describe it by scholars. So we may follow the accepted though inaccurate description while at the same time qualify it by foregrounding the metaphysical content of it and its supraindividual and intellectual character