Love into Arts
As I listened to the presentation, I felt proud to be a Sri Lankan when the speaker introduced himself as a Sufi Buddhist monk. This was at the International Sufi Festival held in Amritsar, the 'Ocean of Nectar'. It was indeed sweet nectar, the city itself, the Golden Temple and Ram Tirth where Valmiki is said to have written the Ramayana.
The festival had been organized by the Foundation Of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) along with the Punjab Heritage and Tourist Promotion Board, in collaboration with the Punjab Ministry of Tourism and Arpana Caur. Amritsar had been chosen because "Punjab is the land of Sufism and of Sufis", according to Kushwant Singh, Chairman of FOSWAL.
Ajeet Caur, Panjabi writer and President of FOSWAl, in her introductory address summed it up, "The driving force behind this endeavour of the Sufi Festival is Love for the people living around us! Love for the whole of humanity."
It was a gathering of writers, poets and academics from twelve countries in the region, along with Sufi musicians, singers and dancers. It was a total immersion for two days in Sufi philosophy, poetry and music, for all the delegates, which confirmed everybody's view that Sufi is a way of life, for the betterment of mankind.
It was a conference where there was not a single dissension, or debate, even among writers who believed in freedom of expression, and belonged to all faiths, Islam, Hindu, Siekh, Buddhist and Christian.
This was best expressed by Rev. Prof. Gallelle Sumanasiri thero in his presentation. We have to use terms like Sufi Buddhism or Islamic Buddhism, because of our self-imposed imprisonment inside different labels. When we use terms like Sufism, Hinduism and Buddhism we are immediately isolating ourselves from the rest of mankind. We are building a group within a barrier and shutting off those who are outside the group. We look at them with suspicion, we try to see aggression and enmity in every word uttered by those outside our own group.
This is when conflicts begin as we let a few politicians and a few selfish humans to create suspicion and hatred. The most recent incidence was in Bangladesh when a grossly exaggerated report of a Qur'an burning led to the destruction of several Buddhist temples.
The word of God or the word of the Buddha cannot be destroyed by a mere mortal. Even if a book is destroyed the truth cannot be destroyed. people have been burning down religious books ever since religious books began to be written, but no religion was ever destroyed.
Most of the papers presented were based on Sufi poetry, music, and literature. Prof. Mohammad Nurul Huda from Bangladesh talked of the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore and Nazrul Islam. There were four poets from the Tribhuvan Univesity in Kathmandu. Bal Bahdur Thapa looked at Brothers Karamazov from a Sufi viewpoint, while Prakash Subedhi who was born a Hindu, followed Buddha Dhamma and had studied Sufi way of life as he saw it. Keshab Sigdel looked at Human Rights, and their guru, Prof. Abi Subhedi also discussed Sufi poetry.
Dr. Noor Zaheer, the author of 'My God is a Woman', a Muslim turned atheist, presented the view of a woman as a Sufi. While everyone talked of Rumi and Khayyam, Farheen Chaudhury from Pakistan talked about her own life experience through Sufi eyes. We could look forward to Sufi fiction too, in time to come.
It is literature, art and music that can bring humanity together, break down all the man-made barriers, as we saw in the painting of Arpana Caur which symbolized the Sufi festival, and the contrasting performance of the Whirling Darveshes from Pakistan led by Wahid Bukhsh, who whirl around to the beat of the drum in remembrance of God, and the Mystical music as an instrumental and vocal orchestra by the El Edri group composed of scholars and academics from Istanbul. Sufi ideals were presented in the soft music by the group from Afghanistan, and in a solo dance by Dilafruz Kodirova from Uzbekistan.
There were no religious barriers that evening among all those who had gathered at the Khalsa College in Amritsar, convincing us that we have to overcome the faith barriers built by us. One major barrier is the labels which brand us and separate us. Let us do away with the labels. Or let us use a universally acceptable name instead of Sufism, Sikhism, Islam or Buddhism. Devanampiya Piyadassi, later identified by the British as Asoka, used the term Dhamma without specifying any particular faith. The word Dhamma could be used for almost all eastern faiths and philosophies.
Mavlana Jalal-Ud-Din Mohhamad Rumi wrote - "Don't look for God outside. For Him, look inside". Bodhi Dharma wrote - "Don't look for Buddha outside. For Him, look inside". Rumi also said, "The rose does not care if someone calls it a thorn, or a jasmine". It is the language and the labels which place us apart and which causes misunderstandings and misguidedly fight with each other for the love of the same goal.
We recall Rumi's poem about the Persian, Arab, Turk and the Greek who wanted to buy four different things with one coin, not realizing that they all wanted the same thing. They were asking for grapes, but in four different languages. That is the lesson for all of us.
The best way to bring this unity is by translating all Sufi poetry into as many languages as possible, and read them with an open mind, as we should also do with Buddha Dhamma and all other religious teachings. Let us use poetry, paintings, music and dance to bring Love and unity among mankind, so we could all be Peaceful and Useful.