By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
29 June 2022
Persian and Urdu Poetry Have Borrowed Style and Diction from Buddhist Mystic Songs
1. Charyapada and Doha are the oldest poetic genres developed by Buddhist mysticism.
2. Many Buddhist Siddhacharyas were mystic poets.
3. Buddhist mystic songs are the oldest specimens of poetry in India.
4. Persian and Urdu Sufi poets of Iran, Afghanistan and India emulated Buddhist mystic poets.
It is an established fact that Islamic Sufism has derived its features, ideas and philosophy from spiritual philosophy of different religions and spiritual groups. It has borrowed ideas and practices from Upanishads and Buddhist and Christian mysticism. The great Arab Sufi poet Ibn Arabi wrote his Sufi treatise Fusus al Hikam after getting inspiration from a Sanskrit book on Hindu mysticism or Advaitavad and after that the Philosophy of Monism (Wahdat ul Wujud) became very popular among the Muslim Sufis of India and Persia. The tradition of monasteries in Islamic Sufism is the result of Christian monasticism and Buddhist Viharas. The philosophy of merging or dissolution of self into the Supreme self our Spirit called Fana to attain Baqa (eternal bliss) in Islamic self is also due to the influence of Upanishadic and Buddhist philosophy.
Apart from the philosophical and ideological influence, the Islamic Sufism was also greatly influenced by the Buddhist mystic poetry. It is widely known that Sufis used poetry as a means to attain spiritual ecstasy (Wajd or Haal) and to express their complex and deep spiritual experiences and philosophical ideas not meant for laymen. Therefore, they started composing poetry on the lines of Buddhist poetry. Many Buddhist poets composed poetry in ancient poetic genres called Charyapada and Doha. These poems have a distinct style, and peculiar metaphors, similes symbols and allegories are used in these poems to convey mystic ideas and experiences in suggestive language.
Since Buddhism is divided into more than 18 sects and sub-sects, they have different beliefs and practices and every sect believes that their way only leads to the Supreme Truth. Mahayana and Hinayana or Theravada are two major sects but Mahayana branched into more sub-sects like Vajrayana and Mantrayana. In Vajrayana or Mantrayana, Mantra, Tantra or the meditation on deities are prescribed. Vajrayana believes in Vamachara (belief in the effectiveness of the use of sexual union, consumption of wine or meat and other intoxicants) in the attainment of spiritual bliss called Mahasukh or Nirvan. Therefore, in Buddhist poetry, wine or sexual union, ecstasy, lover, the beloved etc all get a spiritual meaning. All these poetic tools are used in Buddhist songs to express spiritual ideas and experiences. For example, two translations of Buddhist Charya Padas are reproduced below:
Kulish and Karuna are united
The army is in deep sleep
The senses are won over
Great Bliss becomes king of the Void
The shell played the 'anahata sound'
The magic tree and the worldly powers fled away
Kukkripa raised his finger aloft and said:
In the city of Bliss all has been won over
The three worlds became filled with Great Bliss
So says Kukkripa in Great Bliss
(Poet Kukkuri Pad)
The wine maker woman entered the two rooms
She prepared wine from fine bark
Hold me still and prepare wine
So that your shoulders remain stout
When signs appear on the tenth door
The customer flows in spontaneously
The wine was filled to the brim in 64 pitchers
When the customer comes in does not go out
A pitcher with narrow neck
Birua says, hold on still and pour it cautiously
(Poet Birua Pad)
In the first Charyapada, Kulish and Karuna represent the soul of the devotee and the Supreme Soul and their union is being described. The army is the army of sensual abd material desires which have gone to sleep as a result of the devotee's union with the Supreme Self. The shell is the metaphor of the heart (the heart resembles a shell) and it plays 'anahata sound'. In Sufi terminology, 'anahata sound' is called Latifa (very subtle sound emanating from the heart). These sounds are of six kinds and so they are called Lataif-e-Sitta.
In the second Charyapada, the use of similar metaphors, that of wine (Sharab or May wine maker or Saqi, the customer (rind or Badakash), two rooms (Maikhana) were later used in Persian and Urdu poetry. Other similes and metaphors like garden, deer, hunter, net, forest etc found similar metaphors in Dasht, Ghazali or doe eyed damsel, gulshan, saiyad, jaal etc in Urdu and Persian sufi poetry particularly ghazal.
To establish that Urdu and Persian poetry or Islamic Sufi poetry was influenced by the Buddhist poetry, we need to establish that Buddhist mystic poetry preceded Islamic Sufi poetry. And there are enough evidences to prove that.
In 1906, the eminent Bengali linguist and researcher of Bengal Pandit Harprasad Shastri discovered four a palm leaf manuscripts of Buddhist songs called Charyapada and Dohas from Nepal Royal library. The manuscripts were prepared in the 14th century and the songs contained in them were composed between the 8th century and 12th century. The songs and Dohas were composed by Siddhas of Buddhism and Nath Panth (an offshoot of Tantric Buddhism). In Tibetan language, a similar manuscript of hundred Charyapadas called Charyagitikosh existed. It is evident that Buddhist mystic sings or Doha were in vogue and popular even before the 8th century AD and the Buddhist Siddhacharyas compiled the best Charya Padas available in the 14th century.
Now let's find out how old is Islamic Sufi poetry in Persian and Urdu and its relation with Buddhist mystic songs.
Although the tradition of Islamic Sufism can be traced back to the second or third century Hijri, Islamic Sufism attained a distinct ideological and philosophical identity around the 5th century. The first prominent Sufi who also composed couplets in Arabic was Hadhrat Rabia Basri who belonged to the 8th century. Her couplets were simple expressions of love of God and devotion. The first Sufi who expressed Sufi ideas in Arabic poetry is Yahya Ma'az Razi. He belonged to the 9th century. Another famous Persian Sufi poet was Shaikh Ibrahim Khwas who belonged to the 9th century. Sufi poet Shaikh Mahmood Shabistary belonged to the 14th century. The famous Persian Sufi poet Maghribi belonged to the 14th century.Shaikh Abu Sayeed al Khair belonged to the 11rh century AD. Persian Sufi poet Shaikh Ibrahim Iraqi was born in Hamdan, travelled to Multan in India then went to Egypt and finally settled in Syria where he died. Sufis would travel to distant countries and through them ideas and philosophies would spread to fa off continents. Sufi poet Hussain bin Mansur Hallaj travelled to India and was influenced by Buddhist and Upanishadic philosophy of Fana. There are other Persian Sufis like Rumi and Attar who accepted Buddhist and Upanishadic influences on their poetry.
Since consumption of wine, and illicit union between a man and a woman is a taboo in Islam, the use of wine or of sexual union between a man and his consort in Islamic sufi poetry is only under the influence of the Buddhist mystic songs.Since Islamic sufis borrowed mystic poetry from Buddhism they also borrowed poetic tools of Buddhist mystic poetry to express their spiritual thoughts and experiences. One important metaphor in Buddhist mystic poetry is that of deer. In India deer are found in abundance in jungles and Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon in a deer forest in Sarnath. But the use of deer or deer forest in the Sufi poetry of an Arab Sufi poet Ibn Arabi is surprising. This only hints at the influence Muslim Sufis of Arab and Ajam accepted from Buddhist mystic songs. The camel, not a deer is a natural metaphor in Arabic poetry.
Another distinct feature of Buddhist songs is the use of Takhallus (nom de plume) in the last couplet of the songs. Every song has the pen name of the poet in the last couplet though in some songs, the pen name is also used in the beginning or in the middle.
In Arabic Ghazal the tradition of using pen name or Takhallus did not exist. The Takhallus in Persian Ghazals was first used in the 12th century and became an essential feature of Ghazals in the 13th century. Later, in Bhakti poetry of Indian poets like Kabir, Lalan Fakir, and Sufi poetry of Baba Farid, Ameer Khusrau etc. Takhallus became an essential part of songs, dohas and Ghazals. But fundamentally, the use of t Takhallus or bhanita has been borrowed from Buddhist poetry.
It is evident from the discussion carried above that Buddhism not only influenced Islamic Sufism but also Buddhist poetry contributed a lot to the style and diction of Islamic sufi poetry and the popular Persian and Urdu poetic genre Ghazal.
S. Arshad is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com.
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