Sufi Dhamma

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Sufi Dhamma and Rifq

daya dissanayake

My presentation at the International Sufi Festival at the Diggi palace hotel in Jaipur, organized by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) on Oct 20 th 22nd.


In the beginning there was no violence. man did not show any violence towards man or animal, and probably no word for violence. Today we do not have a word for the absence of violence. All religions taught man to love all mankind and all life on earth. At first, an did not kill other living creatures and did not consume the flesh of other animals. Sufism today has emerged to remind mankind of this, and is trying to show us the path of loving kindness by developing Akhalq through our inner self. Thus we should not consider the Sufi way as another religion in the modern sense of the word. We should consider it as Sufi Dhamma, just as we should consider Buddha Dhamma instead of Buddhism.


In the beginning there was no violence.

I put the question to my friends, academics, linguists, priests, writers and on social media. Many proposed, Peace, Compassion, Shanthi, Ahimsa, Sauhard, Sakoon, Aman, Ubuntu. In Islam we have the word Rifq, which bears at once the meanings of kindness, sweetness, tolerance, goodness, giving, forgiveness and gentleness.

Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu term for human kindness, humaneness, virtue. It gave rise to Ubuntuism. In Malawi the term is uMunthu.

And I put it to you today, what is the best term, in any language, to express the positive idea for the absence of violence?

My next point is the use of the term Sufism. The moment we add the suffix -ism to anything it become debatable, a vada. Perhaps Tasawwuf could be a better term, or we could use the term Sufi Dhamma, like the better term for Buddha's teaching is Buddha Dhamma, and not Buddhism, a word pushed down upon us by the Europeans like Max Muller and Max Weber.

Idris Shah had written, "We view Sufism not as an ideology that moulds people to the right way of belief or action, but as an art or science that can exert a beneficial influence on individuals and societies, in accordance with the needs of those individuals and societies ... Sufi study and development gives one capacities one did not have before."

A. A. Godlas had translated an anonymous Persian poem 'What is Tasawwful?' The first line says "It is good character and awareness of God". He explains the term Akhlaq, and Good Behaviour is an inexact translation denoting virtuous behaviour that is an outgrowth of spiritual refinement. Akhlaq as used by Sufis consists of virtuous behaviour that derives from the fact that the inner being of the Sufi has become purified. How such a Sufi behaves is not so much the product of effort.

Violence is considered as an extreme form of aggression, such as assault, rape or murder. Violence has many causes, including frustration, exposure to violent media, violence in the home or neighborhood and a tendency to see other people's actions as hostile even when they're not. Certain situations also increase the risk of aggression, such as drinking, insults and other provocations and environmental factors like heat and overcrowding.1

It was the Mahatma who told us that “Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.” And Martin Luther King reminded us that “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”

As difficult as it may be to admit, we have grown up with and grown accustomed to violence as our model of “conflict resolution.” We may hold an unbearable grief inside ourselves at this state of our world – but we are no longer surprised by it.

Buried in the “issues” and the complications of social dynamics, it goes virtually unnoticed that it is the implied threat of violence (and its strategic use) that has kept a population of 7 billion human beings controlled by the agenda of a few thousand intimate power brokers. Violence is the vehicle by which “power over” is maintained.

Nonviolence is the way this reality is revealed and transformed.

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve – for all human conflict – a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”2

We have to blame all historians and epic poets for the violence around us today. They have almost all justified violence and brain-washed us to believe that violence is the only way to resolve conflicts. The only literature without violence we found initially in the Jain and Buddhist writings, till we came to the Sufi literature. Most of us here are familiar with the Buddhist Jataka Stories and the Thera Theri Gatha, the stories of Bhikkhus and Bikkhunis. The best example from Jain literature is Pauma Cariya, the Jain Ramayana written around the 1st century by Vimala Suri.

The first ever act of violence by a human being, according to Judeochristian belief is murder of Abel by his own brother Cain. Even if we take this as symbolic, it was the murder of the peaceful farmer by the more aggressive nomad. The first recorded violence in India is found in Valmiki's Ramayana, which changed the more ancient Ramakatha, as we find in the nonviolent Dasharatha Jataka.

It is beyond any doubt that man was a peaceful, harmless animal, like all other animals on Mother earth. Like other animals, he would have shown aggression only in the face of danger, but never violence against their own brothers or other living things, including plants.

This early life has been very clearly explained by the Buddha in the Agganna Sutta in the Digha Nikaya of the Buddhist Tripitaka. People when they felt hungry would have picked up a ripe fruit, or a few tender leaves from a tree, or dug up a tuber using a stick. Just enough to sate his hunger at the moment. He would not have eaten regular three meals a day, and a few snacks in-between. But one day one man would have felt too lazy to go out every time he was hungry, so he would have collected enough food for a day or two. When another man saw this he would have wanted to collect more food to last several days. Man began hoarding his food. Next, one man would have become jealous when another wanted to pluck the fruit from a tree which grew nearby. He would lay claim to the tree, which led to the claim of the land on which the tree grew. This became the most valued possession when women discovered that they could plant and they began to nurture trees and vegetables.

Those who were more greedy and more cunning would have claimed most of the land, depriving many others from owning anything. Then such deprived people had to become the slaves under these masters. Man's greed evolves into more greed and to acquire more and more wealth. When he cannot achieve it by stealth or fraud he becomes violent. He uses his slaves to invade the property of others. To create motivation in his slaves against the slaves in the neighbouring land, man created, caste, race and creed, and language, and roused fear and hatred between men.

In the meantime a few men would have tasted the rotting flesh of dead animals, killed by predatory animals, and he would have got a taste of it. This is what would have caused the Fall of Man, not the apple. Greed for the flesh of animals would have then made him kill the innocent animals. Seeing the blood, the pain and the suffering of the wounded and dying animals would have caused the sadistic violent streak in man, which too had been exploited to the maximum effect by those who ruled over them.

I would like to mention here that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of man is a myth created by the early anthropologists from the west, who could not believe that human beings could survive without eating the decaying flesh of other animals.

It is not easy for man to go back to what he had been when he was a peaceful, harmless vegetarian showing loving kindness to all life. We have too many reasons to hate our brother, our neighbour, and too many barriers between us. It is not easy to breakdown most of these barriers. The easiest barrier to be brought down is the one the ruling class and the priests have built around us in the name of religion, in the name of God.

Two months ago India and Pakistan celebrated independence, but separately. It is a religious barrier that a few short-sighted, narrow-minded people erected, and their progeny are continuing to aggravate the conflict.

No religion on earth would have advised or extolled violence in the beginning. Buddha and Mahavir had always preached peace and non-violence. "May we not hate anyone." Atharva Veda 12/1/24. "He who sees all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings, hates none". Isopanishad 6. The Prophet said, "God grants to rifq what he does not grant to unf." (Sunah Abu Dawud 4/255). A close translation of Rifq is gentleness, and Unf is violence.

Even Jesus said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Luke 6:27 - 28.

Vivekananda had said, "That universal religion about which philosophers and others have dreamed in every country, already exists. It is here. ... the priests and other people that have taken upon themselves the task of preaching, .....are disturbing it all the time, because it is not in their interest.3

Religious conflicts are the result of the intolerance bred by man's psychological insecurity and his fanatical attachment to the symbols of his religion. This fanaticism he mistakes for the religion itself, and which, because they are exclusive to his own religious culture, he looks upon as superior.

"We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to love one another." Jonathan Swift had written in Thoughts of Various Subjects.4

"I believe in acceptance. not tolerance. Toleration means that I think you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship with them all.5

"He who reforms himself has done more towards reforming the public, than a crowd of noisy impotent patriots". Johan Kaspar Lavater, Theologian, mystic and poet. (1741 - 1801).6

The Sindhi poet Agha Khalid Saleem, had said, “The philosophy in Sindh used to be nonviolence, and the philosophers of Sindh were Sufi poets. Sami, Sacchal and Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai spread the message of peace and were proponents of nonviolence.”

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi has already identified where we should all meet. So let this venue for the International Sufi Conference be the field,

"When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense."

"O my Lord," she prayed, "if I worship Thee from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, then withhold not from me Thine Eternal Beauty." (224) Said Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya, the 8th cent. Sufi Saint.

Ibn al-Arabi (1165 - 1201/240?) "Beware of confining yourself to a particular belief and denying all else, for much good would elude you—indeed, the knowledge of reality would elude you. Be in yourself a matter for all forms of belief, for God is too vast and tremendous to be restricted to one belief rather than another."

Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, writes in the introduction to Rosenberg's book, "Nonviolence is about inculcating positive attitudes to replace the negative attitudes that dominate us......Nonviolence means allowing the positive within you to emerge. Be Dominated by love, respect, understanding, appreciation, compassion, and concern for others rather than the self-centered and selfish, greedy, hateful, prejudiced, suspicious, and aggressive attitudes that dominate our thinking."7 To develop this positive outlook, we do not yet have a positive term.

"In 75 percent of the television programs sown during hours when American children are most likely to be watching, the hero either kills people or beats them up. This violence typically constitutes the 'climax' of the show. Viewers, having been taught that bad guys deserve to be punished, take pleasure in watching this violence." This applies to our countries too, when we see the amount of violence shown on television and films, and the way people are getting addicted to this enjoyment of violence.

It was Garrier ter Harr who said, Religion has become a source of conflict rather than a resource for peace. It should be a private affair, "something between individual believers and their, a relation that should not be carried over into the public domain.....political violence becomes legitimized through religion, if necessary with due reference to the founding characters of the respective religious traditions."8

"Part of a tolerant world is the acceptance that different paths may lead to the same goal, in this case a humane and peaceful society."9 and further that "The roots of religious fundamentalism, lie also in a lack of human security, including such psychological factors as an absence of an appropriate sense of belonging. The absence of human security, in the broadest sense of the word, is an important source of conflict and violence."10

"Religion is a social fact, that rather than being lamented, dismissed or ignored may be turned to the advantage of humankind by considering how it can be used for constructive purposes....Religion becomes a negative power, as suggested above, when it is used for the oppression and exploitation of others. But it is positive, for example, when it is used for healing purposes, or as an inspiration to resolve conflicts and bring about peace. Religion is a powerful instrument in the hands of those who use it. These are not necessarily believers alone. They may also include others, such as politicians, who manipulate religion effectively. Many politicians in the world, at least in those parts of the world where people are overwhelmingly religious (in the defined sense of the word), have already discovered this potential and use it for their own, often factional, purposes, in ways that prevent the establishment of peace. They are acutely aware that both the realm of politics and the realm of religion are connected with power, whether religiously defined (in terms of spiritual power, located in the transcendental sphere)."11

In the same book, Chandra Muzzafar explained that Religious doctrines and practices, however different they may be, have seldom given rise to actual conflict..... Difference in doctrine and ritual may at times create a certain social distance between religious communities. They may, on occasion, impede social interaction. But they do not themselves - and this must be emphasized over and over again - cause conflict..... for most of Asian history the different religious doctrines, practices and symbols have co-existed without too much antagonism or enmity....not all who participate in religious riots are religious, in the conventional sense of the term. ...many rioters who shout religious slogans are often totally ignorant of their religious teachings."12

"...diverting the attention of the masses from their economic and social woes by igniting the religious emotions of the people is a favourite tactic of ruling elites in a number of countries. Riots in India and Sri Lanka in the last two decades show that it is always easy to arouse the religious passions of angry, frustrated youth who have no hope of gainful employment."13

We are reading Ramayana today with a mindset forced down upon us by the Europeans, our colonial masters. That is why Chandra Muzzafar said that, "A community, or at least its elites, may choose to evoke the memory of some real or imagined act of oppression or injustice committed by 'the other' community. .... we should not ignore the continuing impact of the colonial policy of devide-and-rule upon relations between different communities in present-day Asia. Quote from Sushil Shrivastava in 'The Ayodhya Controversy: Where lies the Truth?' The disputed place of worship is a mosque which Babar built after destroying a temple consecrating Rama's birthplace originated in the first half of the 16th century. Its origin lies in the British strategy of creating a law-and-order problem by instigating a communal conflict in the area in order to justify the annexation of Avadh. To divide the local population, the British popularised the idea that the Mughals had desecrated Hindu places of worship in Ayodhya. By propagating this view, they simultaneously sought to project themselves as 'sympathisers' of the Hindu majority, while the Mughals - the immediate predecessors of the British - were made out to be oppressors of the Hindus and enemies of Hindu culture and tradition."14

"The problem lies with the way religion is understood and practiced. It is not the philosophy or the doctrine, it is not the practice or the rituals, which are the is our interpretation of religion which constitutes the problem. It is the meaning we attach to certain doctrines and rituals which creates difficulties....God is seen as the God of their particular group. Truth and justice, love and compassion, are perceived as values which are exclusive to their religion....In order to project their exclusive greatness of their religion, they emphasize the forms of practices, the rituals and symbols, which distinguish their particular religious traditions form other traditions. They regard these rituals and symbols as ends in themselves. The devotion to ritual becomes the ultimate measure of the piety and goodness of an individual."15

"quoting Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, 'All outer names are man-made distinctions whereas the reality is faith in God and love of man. ...We must admit faith in the one God of all mankind who is worshipped in many ways'(Recovery of faith 1967)' ....It is only when we acquire knowledge about 'the other's faith' that we will become less attached to the 'us' versus 'them' dichotomy which prevades society....By trying to understand other religions we will be establishing the basis for genuine inter-faith dialogue."16

But Gandhi also said "Rama, Allah and God are to me convertible terms", and his concept of a Ramarajya, did not mean a Hindu Raj, but a divine Raj. In which case, he should have really referred to the Bodhisattva Rama in the Dasaratha Jataka, and not the Rama of Valmiki or Tulsidas. Though Gandhi meant a Divine Raj', by his time the concept of Rama Rajya had become a den of power hungry thieves in the minds of the people.

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