The Sufi Saints
As history well records, there has always been a long sad trail of suffering in every age as invaders have spread mayhem and destruction across cultures, societies and hapless millions of people. Yet when the dust settles and the spilt blood dries a new stage once again emerges; a stage that asks for integration on all levels as different cultures collide. We see it in such areas as trade, languages, literature, art, music, food, traditions, and of course, among the different religions with their varying views of God. And in this context we see in the case of ancient India a very interesting and valuable lesson unfold.
The orthodox structures that guided the lives of devote Muslims and Hindus in those times were vastly different, as they still are today. And in looking over the cultural fence at each other they found their new neighbor’s practices not only foreign, but often offensive. And, as it is even today, those who look only at the outer forms and practices see nothing but their differences and this of course continues to breed the ignorance and hatred that still burden our present world.
An important figure in those times was the powerful and highly successful ruler, Akbar the Great. Interested in the wisdom of the various faiths Akbar summoned leaders from all the religions in his realm. Hindus, Jews, Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, and Jains were all called together with the intent of finding a common ground between all religions. Historians argue the relative success of these efforts, but it’s not surprising that Akbar concluded that “No one religion can claim absolute knowledge or absolute authority.” and “All religions are wrong, but all differences need to be tolerated.”
Though his relative level of religious tolerance for that time was laudable, discovering a true common ground will always be a far more esoteric and spiritual task than a simple meeting of minds and ideas. Fortunately, at that time there were those who knew just where to look!
Enter the Sufi Saints. It was these Islamic Mystics who first began to build a common ground between the Hindus and their Muslim conquerors. From the beginning of the second millennium and continuing for the next six hundred or so years we see these Sufi Saints wandering about India teaching their mystical version of Islam.
Not focusing on the outer rituals and practices of Islam, their teachings were experiential, seeking the purification of the heart through the creation of an interior life in order to focus one’s life and consciousness exclusively upon God. So it was that with this interior, experiential focus that they found themselves in complete harmony with their Hindu counterparts, the Hindu yogi saints, with their ancient science of meditation and its resultant God communion.
It was not uncommon in those times that these great saints would have followers from both religions; Hindu saints with Muslim followers and Muslim saints with Hindu followers. Probable the most famous among them was Kabir, who when his Hindu and Muslim followers argued over his remains, rose up from under his death shroud and gave instructions that half of his remains were to be buried with Muslim rites and the other half were to be cremated with Hindu rites. He then returned to his place beneath the shroud. When his devotees subsequently removed the veil they found only a beautiful array of roses, which they dutifully divided and gave their dual rites!
In orthodox Islam today some of these much revered Indian Sufi Saints are considered as heretics, outside the so called “true ” faith, for their inclusion of Hindu and yogic practices in their teachings. And so it always is. Those who focus on the outside see only differences. Those who go within find a oneness with God and all mankind.
Jesus said: “The kingdom of God lies within.” It is, in fact, only to be found within. Then with a universal understanding gathered from the interior temple, souls from different cultures and religions realize their common Father, Mother, Beloved God behind all the outer practices of every religion.
It’s wonderfully reveling that the treasure map of life has been discovered in every age and on every continent. But only by those who build an interior life. For it is they alone who are able to receive the soul whispers that lead them to the boundless treasure that lies hidden in every human heart!
I’m John Johnston. See you next time, here, On the Cosmic Porch!