Buddhism penetrated into the heart of Hinduism and transformed it from within so much so that the greatest Vedantic philosopher Shankara is accused to be a cryptobuddhist. Buddhism changed its guise and continued to flourish in Saivism of Kashmir. Similar remarks could be made and applied in case of Islam. Neither Buddhism nor Saivism died here. Their essential spirit and many peripheral practices continued to be, in one or the other form, in Rishiyyat or post-Nuruudin Islam in Kashmir. Risshiyyat has appropriated key Buddhistic elements in its practice. A poem composed in honour of Buddha by Sheikh Nuruddin is ample evidence of impact of Buddhist tradition. Buddhist metaphysics of Void, its eightfold path, its four noble truths, its silence towards speculative metaphysical theological issues, its emphasis on orthopraxy rather than any particular view of Ultimate Reality, its pragmatism, its monkish culture, its ahimsa and vegetarianism all could be traced in Risshiyat of Kashmir in the Muslim period. Kashmiris continue to use, both consciously and unconsciously key Buddhist concepts and formulations in their discourse. Kashmiris blame their karma rather than any external factor or force for their suffering. Whenever something untoward happens he cries panien gunah, aamali baden hienz shamat (My bad karma, bitter fruit of bad actions). Many proverbs and folk stories have possible connection with Buddhism. Many traditional Kashmiris seek refuge in God and in Pir which seems to echo Buddhist practice of talking refuge in the Buddha. The world is described as a place of suffering by common Kashmiri (dunya chu tawan). Impermanence of everything is asserted by such common sayings as dunya chu napayidar, yaet kya chu rozwun(nothing stays long in the world). “Permanence” is attributed to Spirit or Absolute only, to Void in Buddhist terms. “Rozuwun chu bas tamsund naw”(God’s name or Essence alone is permanent) is a common saying in Kashmir. One can cite many more similar expressions used in different contexts of which we can find equivalent in Buddhism.
Kashmir remains a land of the Buddha despite centuries of oblivion of Buddhism. Buddhism never really disappeared in Kashmir. It impacted on deeper structures and in subtle ways on Kashmir’s history, religion and culture and its impact continues. It continues to live in Muslim Kashmir, not to speak of Leh etc. Contemporary Muslim Kashmir is not understandable without appreciating impact and living presence of Buddhism.
Islam in Kashmir is a fulfillment of socially engaged egalitarian Buddhist project rather than a new faith that negated the spirit of Buddhism and usurped its throne by force. Buddhism is not history here and its study is not of merely historical importance. It lives in archetypes and as a metaphysical and mystical darsana it can’t be exiled from the collective unconscious of Kashmiris. Of course its distinct identity may be nonexistent now but it doesn’t bother about its distinct identity. Wherever people attempt to conquer suffering and identify desire, the desiring self (nafsi amara) as the culprit) and seek the light (nur in the Quranic terminology) out of existential darkness that constitute samsaric becoming there Buddhism lives. Buddha will have nothing new to teach our Sufis and Sufism, properly understood and shorn of its theological dress, is living and authentic expression of timeless wisdom of which historical Buddhism was one expression.
Buddhism has a very sublime conception of tawhid, understood metaphysico-mystically. Originally it rejected image worship. It completely rejected anthropomorphism in its theology. It guarded against shirk so successfully that even now after centuries of development and even distortion Buddhism refuses to allow any human conception of the Ultimate Reality any validity and strictly advocates silence. Kashmiri Sufi poets have appropriated essential Buddhism in their conceptions of fana, devotion to Unitarianism, and sublime conception of divine transcendence. Qadir Sb Keyna is a Sufi poet who has specifically composed verses on void. “I am the Void, you are the Void/ What shall I speak of the Void.” Lalla’s vaakhs too have echoes of the Buddhist formulation regarding the Void. Nuruddin Reshi, popularly called the Sheikhul Alam (world teacher) has emphasized mingling of the Void and Shiva and thus foregrounding Islamic integral metaphysical formulations that take care of both the positive and the negative divine. Negation of all gods in Islamic terminology is what Buddhism asserts in its doctrine of impermanence of all manifested things. Kashmiri Sufi vision is strongly centred on this negative view of divine. A Kashmiri is fond of using tasbih and forms of collective meditation such as durood and azkar. Relic culture has Buddhist origins. Keeping photographs of pirs and parents and grandparents is a substitute for image culture which flourished from Buddhist times in Kashmir.
Though none can deny differences at theological plane the question is what differentiates Islam from Buddhism in such sharp terms at metaphysical or ethical plane. Metaphysical unity of diverse traditions which claim to be founded on religious experience of its founders has been amply demonstrated by various scholars, most importantly and most cogently and forcefully by perennialists. Theological differences when translated in terms of more foundational metaphysical or esoteric principles (of which theologies are distant and inexact or crude translations) get dissolved and can be easily reconciled. Let us analyze differences between Buddhism and Islam of which such critics as Harun Yaha make much fuss.
The doctrine of rebirth, anatta, absence of theism or “agnosticism,” different doctrines concerning hell and heaven, asceticism or world negation, which are part of Buddhism are found to be irreconcilable with Islam according to most scholars. But a deeper analysis of all these doctrines reveals remarkable convergence with Islamic doctrines. Here a very brief explication of these doctrines could be attempted in the following paragraphs.
There is no such thing as rebirth understood in animistic sense of transmigration of soul or personality in integral traditions according to Comaraswamy. God is the only transmigrant as Shankara put it. There is no reality behind the façade of ego/personality which could survive and transmigrate according to all religions. As long as man is trapped in the illusion that there is really a person So and so he is condemned to suffer and in the symbolic language of Scriptures to rebirth. Really there is no birth, no autonomous soul or self, no death. The Buddha taught suffering bred from illusion of desiring self and a way of escape from it. About the whither and whence of souls he is not concerned. His problem is salvation or conquest over suffering and ignorance. Islam too has not entertained discussion over those questions which have no bearing on human salvation. Discussion divine Essence, destiny, eschatological states, origin of the world of manifestation are not encouraged. The only problem is correct knowledge or right view which leads to right conduct, to God or Truth.
The doctrine of annata is the integral part of Islamic conception. Only the Spirit, a transindividual faculty, the luminous centre of consciousness/knowledge is immortal or divine element in man. The body and the soul are subject to sin and suffering. The Spirit transcends all the individualities of existence and is not liable to sin or corruption. The Spirit constitutes our buddha nature. Nirvana is a blissful experience because our Spirit is made of the substance of joy or ananda. Sufism ceaselessly talks about transcendence of nafs or desiring soul. The Quran asserts mortality of the soul (nafs) in clear terms (“for every individual soul is death” it says). All compounded things are mortal but the spirit is not a compounded thing. It is not born and death can’t approach it.
About the posthumous states there also is little difference amongst traditions. The final destination is no destination, the Garden of Essence where there is no separate individual desiring self hankering for pleasures. It is a state of utter contentment where Spirit comes to enjoy its eternal repose. Like parinirvanic state it is a state of unalloyed bliss. All seeking, all questioning is laid to rest. Nirvana is unimaginable as is the joy of contemplating God in the other world. Seeing God one is lifted above all cares and transcends all desires. Nirvana too is a state of cessation of desires. For the soul under divine tuition there are states and stations in hells and heavens according to Buddhism. Islam is in essential agreement with the conception of posthumous life on different planes. Hell is not the everlasting abode of any sinner. The flames of hell are finally cooled. Eternity belongs to God only and not to any created or manifested realm. God is the only Permanent entity. “Everything is annihilated and only God’s face remains” declares the Quran.
The question of theism/atheism loses its significance from the Sufistic metaphysical viewpoint. When doctrine of tawhid is approached as Unity of Existence the question of personal divinity is almost bracketed off. Personal God of Muslim theology is not the Absolute of Buddhism and Islamic metaphysics. The former is in Divine Relativity and the Absolute transcends it.
It must be acknowledged that Buddhism is less open to the graces emanating from the world of hue and colour. Islam takes a more positive view of the world, of women and sexuality, of seculer pursuits. However Buddhism too, according to Mahayana school, declares samsara and nirvana as one. It too is compatible with worldly pursuits taken up in the sprit of detachment.
Attachment to doctrines, to rituals, to forms is to be transcended for attaining the ultimate goal. Buddhism has no quarrel with any religion, no truck with identity problem. The dispute for superiority of a doctrine or creed is vain from a Buddhist viewpoint thatis committed to no-view or transcendence of all views. Buddha is a mirror with no form of its own. It is the plain light of Spirit that shines inside all of us. Kashmiri Sufis have often used the metaphor of mirror for the arrived souls and for expressing the mystery of creation. The only significant question from Buddhist viewpoint is how free we are from the bondage of desires and attachments to perishing things. All other questions are secondary. Buddhism can enter into a dialogue with world traditions so readily because it has no views of its own to impose. Kashmir as a land of Rishis has been a land of Buddhist Reshis. Reshi movement of Kashmir has appropriated Buddhist wisdom and made it a part of Kashmir culture and heritage. What emerges from the above discussion is that there is little divergence at deeper mystical-metaphysical plane between Buddhism and Islam. It is no wonder that Islam found a receptive audience in the Buddhist world. I wonder why some Buddhist leaders of Kashmir should be pained at Rinchana’s conversion and see it as betrayal of Buddhist community.