By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah
31 May 2018
Appreciating how Sages across Traditions Agree on Doctrine and Realization of Tawhid.
We live in a plural world where the plea of the Chairman at the 1893 Parliament of the Religions that 'Henceforth the religions of the world will make war not on each other but on the giant evils that afflict humankind' has been increasingly heard. The Quran had suggested focusing on common points of traditions. Let us see how far the doctrine of Reality/God and key to realizing the same is a common point (understood in the language of other traditions) that has, however, not been duly appreciated till now due to misinformation and failure to truly listen to the other dialogue partner.
The challenge is to present our point, not in streets or pulpit or closed rooms of like minded people, but in an imagined session on dawah (invitation to the Underlying Religion/God/Truth) attended by select gathering of experts of comparative religion and theologians besides luminaries from diverse disciplines such as philosophy, literature, history and various other sciences who are for interrogating what we present. Why not let sages (as distinguished from mere saints/theologians) of respective religions who are best qualified to speak on the central doctrine regarding Reality/Ultimate Truth – doctrine of Unity or Tawhid in Islamic parlance– and our way to it, be our spokespersons?
The mission of the prophets is to call us to ourselves (the self to the Self), to the imprint within us of the consciousness of the Absolute or Nondual Reality (so not to be understood as numerical one and thus not to be contrasted with two or three or thirty three crore gods) against which everything is, in the very nature of things, measured/judged. Man has/will have no argument against transpersonal depths of “his” own being or fitrah. Tawhid, literally making one and understood as unity of the Real, is the message of all prophets and is affirmed, even today, in important sense, by every religion founded by prophets and expounded by sages. About this nondual Reality the ideal course is silence as “Right view is no view” for ultimate realization of no distance between one and the Real. To assert anything in conceptual or linguistic terms about It – even to say that it is or it is not – is to create/presuppose some duality and that is why the Bible records:“Be still and know that I am God.” And, as Meister Eckhart, the peerless sage from the Christian tradition, notes, “Isness is God.” “Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.” What dispute or doubt can be entertained regarding Isness and stillness? (“afillahi shakkun…”) Spiritual ripeness is all and “the rest is silence.” Fundamentalism is tendency to shout and refusal to mature and stubbornness to live as if sciences, philosophy, poetry and mysticism have no share of truth or can be ignored in clarifying aspects of Big Questions and clarifying meaning of scripture.
Appreciated at the level of saints/sages realizing nondual consciousness and boundless joy that the Real is by nature/definition, one stammers to say anything. But the problem is that there is no problem and we ordinarily live by inventing scores of them and imagining a distance between us and the Real. Man, constituted as he is, refuses to see the most obvious, live the most natural or primordial of intuitions, be true to himself/fitarh, live in the present, be unconditionally open to experience/other/love, take leave of himself to experience/taste the Real and suck to the marrow the freely accessible “rapture of being alive” as Campbell puts it, live in a mythical space where everything wells up with wonder and mystery, thank the fount of life for the gift of being and life, breathe freely given freedom and surrender his arrogance to capture the whole truth in any formulation or system.
The great religious/spiritual task is “Wei Wu Wei”: "action without action" or "effortless doing" as Tao Te Cheng would put it and this non-action indeed accomplishes all actions. One attains all things in Baqa through surrender/Fana of self will. And one learns it by renouncing the notion of “I am the doer” (this notion is caricatured in a familiar pun on sheep cry Mein Mein – I, I – said to invite butcher) and realizing Tawhid-e-Af’ali where God alone is the real Agent of action implied in “Allah created you and your actions.” It implies seeing all is a play of Spirit. Our task is to surrender and let God take the reins. This point explains both Iqbal’s “Hath Hae Allah Ka Bandayi Mu’min Ka Hath” and Pascal’s insight “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Eckhart states succinctly: “All God wants of man is a peaceful heart.” “Wisdom consists in doing the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it.” “For the person who has learned to let go and let be, nothing can ever get in the way again.” Muslim sages like Iqbal have expressed this by noting kingship or riches of faqr and Beneyazi.
For “the Greatest Master” of Sufis there is no problem of proving or believing or even finding God. In fact it is God who finds/embraces us. “Wujûd means literally "finding" and "to be found." Islam affirms what is best called “mono-realism” which should not be reduced to what is ordinarily called monotheism.
The real task is “to be who you are.” And this task becomes easier by following the straight path that world religions or wisdom traditions have demarcated. Not hurting anyone as Hafiz says or, better, love of non-self/God/Other (and following what is implied therein – surrender of self/pride) constitute the basic commandment(s) we need to keep and the rest follow on their own. Law/Sha’ria with all its paraphernalia boils down to loving or at least considering the other as one loves/considers oneself. For the truly noble or virtuous law doesn’t feel to be an imposition from without as Iqbal, among others, has noted. Eckhart resolved thus the great debate on need of good deeds/following Sha’ria as ordinarily understood for salvation: “We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctified our works.” Thus the question is not of doing good but being good, a point with which no atheist would like to disagree. And then we move to spiritual journey untrammelled by centrifugal passions or thoughts (witnessing self’s distancing of kafiroon in Surah 110, according to one Sufi reading, is non-identification with changing thoughts). As Ramana Maharishi put it: "Thoughts come and go. Feelings come and go. Find out what it is that remains."
Those who are liberated from themselves wonder how come people are so much obsessed with projects of the self – narcissism, legalism, theological hair splitting and all kinds of polemical or ideological noise. They miss life – “rapture of being alive” in the midst of living for this or that end that is not the Absolute or life in its own silent depth.
Tawhid is not mere recitation of Shahada but a lifelong realizational project (who can claim that he knows – realizes – Tawhid? Enquire from Shaikh Nuruddin or Mansur. One can only attempt to know it, to lift one veil after another from the face of God/Truth that ever remains unapproachable) and for this Middle Path (a concomitant of straight path) is required. Let us see how Kashmiri sage Abhinavagupta understands the basis of what is called the Middle Path in other traditions: “The true insight has its abode in the Light of Awareness, in the Centre between Being and Non-being, between feeling and absence of feeling, and [between all other pairs of opposites].” Extremely subtle dialectic of Nagarjuna converges on the same point. Socratic irony is a means to avoid dogmatic closures and getting duped by one sided opinions. Chinese and Greeks expounded Doctrine of the Mean in their own way. Islam applied it in its own way.
Tawhid means, according to Sufi metaphysics, “there is no truth but Truth” thus relativizing all human/linguistic truths and this is affirmed in perspectivism of many important philosophers and syadvada (may-be-ism meaning all judgments are conditional or partially true) of Jainas and this in turn is what more perceptive amongst postmodern philosophers/ poets seek to safeguard against rationalist/fundamentalist dogmatists.
God/Judgment Day has the last word and that means humans shall ever be in business with words (or Theory of Everything will still leave something to enquire about as Hawking granted) as God chooses to speak or declare his judgment not here but in another dimension or world. Here, thanks to God given freedom, humans can continue to be atheists (I recall a famous statement, “Thank God, I am an atheist.”) or theists. Lord is conceived by/addresses every believer in his own way and Personal God is not the Absolute. It is God understood in trans-theistic context as Absolute and One that we find religions from Buddhism to Islam in agreement. So-called non-believers have problems mostly not with the Absolute but with theism presented with anthropomorphist tinge. Theologies as human attempt at formulating divine science can’t but differ but in their depths in autology (science of the Self) they invoke only the One, the Real that constitutes us in reality. God understood as Life, as Ever Living (Al-Hayy) is what is so important from human point of view in theologies or world religions. Even atheists can’t afford indifference to the ground of life. To truly live is to be in proper relationship with the Mystery of Being (Iman Bil Gayyib), to be concerned with ultimate concern in some sense as Tillich would say and that is why all of us are seekers and differ only in the degree of realization of Tawhid.