The Buddha in Afghanistan….
Sufism or Buddhism?
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan looks at this dilemma and sees parallels between the Buddha’s meditation instructions and the Sufi way of ecstatic contemplation:
Buddha found that since detachment from desire (itself a conditioning) sparks freedom, it is only when one is free from conditioning that one can awaken from ignorance.
One would miss out on the sense of attainment gained by the venture of commitment to one’s fellow beings – struggling in the drama of life, sharing similar fates, being subjected to the same dangers, trying to live up to one’s values, struggling for self-esteem, confronting iniquity, experiencing solidarity with those who are victims of erring, feeling humility stemming from repentance and pride from steadfastness, discovering sacredness amongst the poor in spirit, upholding belief in an ultimate meaningfulness and goodness despite proof of the contrary.
Moreover, one would lose the privilege of sharing all that has been gained by the bounty of our civilizations – the legacy of our temples, palaces, cathedrals, symphonies, technology, inventions, our inroads into the sub-atomic and outer space, medicine, our social institutions, the inexorable advance of our understanding in wresting the intelligence behind the marvel of our universe, and our chance of contributing further to our pioneering and creative spirit by putting ourselves on the line!
Indeed, how could we avail the universe of the bounty lying in wait in the deep strata of our being unless we put it to the test of the tune, rhythm, consonances and dissonances of the symphony of life?
However, the concurrence with Buddhism comes to light when one sees how easily one gets oneself involved in the proverbial “tempest in a tea-cup.” Furthermore, we react rather than acting out of an awareness of the ideals of our deeper self. Perhaps the clue is in the discrimination between the quest for joy and the quest for felicity. The Sufi dervishes do practice rida, equanimity (which is often paralleled with the Buddhist samatha vipassana, imperturbility), adab, nobility in emotional sensitivity, and akhlaq Allah, the divine manner, as the conditions conducive to manifesting ishq Allah, divine love.
The difference lies in the fact that the Sufis unfailingly ascribe emotion to their source, divine emotion, and consider that the divine emotion is constrained, defiled and distorted at the scale of the individual. One is always seeing, experiencing and feeling things from the diametrically opposite vantage point to one’s own.
But is this not what Buddhists do when consciousness is no longer the consciousness of an “I?” Is this not found in Buddha’s teaching where he refers to “uncoupling” the central aspect of one’s being, illustrated by the stump of the tree, from the samsaric aspect of one’s being, illustrated by that part of the tree that appears above the ground?
According to the Sufis the emotion which one limits within the confines of the scope of one’s consciousness is the personal dimension of divine emotion at a cosmic scale. The mystic encompasses this overwhelming emotion when carried beyond him/herself by divine ecstasy.
Divinity is the exaltation of the human soul.
Since Inyat Khan (who is not alone) seems unaware of the ecstatic component of the Buddha’s pervasive teachings on meditative absorption, we can’t blame him for ascribing ecstasy to Sufism while relegating Buddhist practitioners to some self-denying boredom cult that misses out on all the fun.
It’s nice, however, to see him find parallels where others see only division.