Reshiyyat has been the Great Tradition of Kashmir from preIslamic times. The origins of the Reshi movement go back to pre-Islamic times in the Vedic period. The founder of the Muslim Reshi movement in Kashmir, Nuruddin Nurani (1377-1440), moulded the pre-existing Reshi tradition, transforming it into a vehicle for the spread of Islam, using local institutions and methods to make Islam more comprehensible to the Kashmiris. After Nuruddin Reshi movement made deep inroads in Kashmir. Mystical ethos found newer expressions and continues vigourously in the form of Sufis and their shrines. Most Kashmiris are followers or admirers of some local Sufi.
The first Reshi, from traditional metaphysical and mystical viewpoints is Logos, the Pole of Existence, the Principle of Manifestation. He brings into consciousness the archetype of God. The term Reshi should be seen as a “perspective, a standpoint, an archetype of certain dominant historical personalities and even dominant images, a way of looking at experience as a whole, a way of interpreting certain fundamental features of human existence” (Khan, 1994). Shiekh Nuruddin has used the term Reshi in this universal transhistorical and transempirical sense. This is evident in his famous eulogization of the ‘legendry’ Reshis. He wants to convey something more valuable than an elementary historical definition of the term. Mystical quest is perennial. In this sense one could well argue that the Reshi movement didn’t originate in the 14th century but has been always there. Consciousness has no beginning in time; rather it creates time and history. The Reshi is the name of this consciousness. The Reshi lives in eternity, in timeless moment. The present author strongly disagrees with traditional historical approach to phenomenon of Reshiyyat which belongs more to metahistory than history and it is only metahistoric or transhistoric dimension of the Reshi movement that makes it perennially relevant. The origin and evolution of the Reshi movement should be discussed in terms of its metahistorical archetypal image rather than in purely historical terms.
All the great names in Kashmir’s religion and mysticism which include such Buddhist sages, philosophers and kings as Nagasen, Mender, Nagarjuna, Kumarajivia, Gautama Sanghadeva, Punyatrata, Vimalaksa, Dharmamitra, Ashogosh, Varsobando etc. and suchKashmiri Saivite sages and philosophers as Srikantha, Vasugupta, Kallata, Prodyumna Bhatta, Prajnarjuna, Somanand, Utpal Dev, Abhinavgupta, Jayaratha are links in the Reshi chain. Lalla connects Saivism with Islamized Reshiyyat of Shiekh Nuruddin. Great Khulafa (disciples) of Shiekh Nuruddin and Khulafa of those Khulafa and the Sufi appropriation of Reshi movement by Shiekh Makhdoom and from then on a galaxy of Reshis of 3rd period (Ist period is up to Shiekh Nuruddin and from him up to Harda Reshi is 2nd period and from then on may be labeled) as third period when Reshis modified their socio-economic structure by abandoning strict “monkish” asceticism and began to earn their own livelihood) have been keeping alive the great Reshi tradition. The Sufi poets of Kashmir have been vital in preservation and transmission of Reshi message. Sufi poetry represents the essence of Reshiyyat. Thus not only the great Reshis such as Bamuddin, Zainuddin, Latifuddin, Nasiruddin, Payamuddin, Lacham Reshi, Reshi, Rupa Reshi, Sangam Dar, Hardi Reshi and later day representatives like Shankar Reshi, Aali Baba Saeb, Rajab Baba Saeb but also great Sufi poets of Kashmir whose names are too well known are links in the great chain of Reshiyyat. Intellectual and religious history of Kashmir is the history of Reshiyyat.
How does one become a Reshi and who qualifies as a Reshi? The answer is a good Muslim or Sufi is a Reshi according to Sheikh Nuruddin. The Reshi is Sanskrit equivalent of mystic or inspired person, one to whom the vision of God has been vouchsafed. It signifies mystical consciousness which precedes or transcends diverse theological formulations or expressions. Reshi is a generic term for mystic or enlightened person or any one who seeks to realize the esoteric aspect of his religious tradition. The fruit of the path that he follows is self realization. “Know thyself” is first commandment of all mystical traditions, Eastern and Western. Reshi goes on the great adventure to know this self. The debate over Persian vs. Sanskrit origin of the term is hardly warranted in view of the fact that the mystic is a bird of lamakaan for whom these things hardly matter. There has been an attempt by Hasan and certain other scholars to Islamize the term Reshi, its origin and the whole chronology that Nurrudin gives in his famous verses. This should be understood from the same perspective and we need not fight over the literal or historical validity of this Islamized history of Reshiyyat in Kashmir. We need to caution against confounding literal with the symbolic and historical with metahistorical and absolutizing the names and labels. The Reshi, the sage, the self realized one, the inspired poet, is the image of primordial man or Adam. One becomes a Reshi by transcending desiring self or ego and becoming a mirror to Reality or God. When the realm of the known ceases, when thoughts cease, when the mind is transcended, when carnal self goes, man becomes a fit receptacle of divine tajalliyat. When nafs or hawa don’t speak, God speaks. The Quran must be revealed to us for authentic existential response from our side, as Iqbal has famously said in his Urdu couplet. The Reshi is name of a medium, an empty receptacle (where no fog of passions and mind obstructs the Unknown, the revelation to descend), a flute, a clean slate on which God writes with his own qalm. One must be gone to be able to assimilate the mighty speech of God. No earthly tongue can be vouchsafed the ability to utter God’s word. The ego or the lower self must be annihilated so that only God remains as happened in case of Mansur. The Reshi passes away from this phenomenal world, as the Beloved’s word consumes him, burns him. One can’t live (as the ordinary self) and know God. That is what is the purport of the following verses of the Sheikh, the revivalist, the resurrector of Reshi movement in the 14th century A.D. “The reading of the Quran should have broken the flashy talisman of your life. In reading the Quran Mansur annihilated himself.” These verses explain the meaning and making of a Reshi. God can only speak through man/ to man when man is no longer man in the ordinary sense of the term. To let God speak man must be silent. He must pass through that severe mystical discipline and control his mind and self. It needs, to quote our Shiekh, “Consecrating life to the search for Truth.” One who “tighten the belly to learn (the virtues of) patience/Gives up his ego/ Contemplates Him in seclusion” could be eligible for the lofty station of the Reshi. Shaiekh Nuruddin, identifying true Muslim with the Reshi, explicates attributes of him. “Who longs to live by the sweat of one’s mind/ Who shows fortitude in provocation/who shares meals with the hungry / who is obsessed with the idea of removing huger, who scorns anger, greed, illusion, arrogance and self conceit.” The Reshi reaches arsh by the load of his nobler actions and then only “the grace of the Omnipotent embraces him.” The Reshi is one “who remains humble despite his substance and sits very low on the wheel of life.” Consuming himself in the fire that the kalima generates and realizing the mirage of existential unity he finds the Eternal and transcends space. The Reshi may be ummi or unlettered but by knowing the meaning of kalima which is “the source of all knowledge”, he appropriates all the essential metaphysical, eschatological and moral truths that are contained in the kalima. The Reshi kindles the lamp of knowledge and religion as he realizes the essence of all knowledge contained in alif, lam and mim. The Reshi realizing the oneness of existence (what Shaikhul Aalam calls kunyr) radiates peace. There is no “other” for him as he has realized unity by transcending all dualities and dualism. His principle of nonviolence extends to all nature, inanimate and animate. His Unitarian weltanschauung dissolves all exclusions and marginalization. He isn’t guilty of any epistemic violence. He is one with Existence. He makes no claims over and against it. He surrenders to Reality and that is why he attains peace within and without. Islam as another name of peace and non-violence and an ethic of social justice has been practically realized by the Reshis. For Nuruddin the Reshi is more a name of a consciousness than a name of particular historical or concrete personality and by virtue of that belongs to all of us. We are all, by virtue of being humans, Reshis or Reshis is the making. This world is the Vale of Reshi making and the Reshi in widest sense of the term is Spirit or its archetypal image. The Reshi possesses the essence of all religious traditions and is heir to everything grand and noble in the history of humanitarian and mystical thought. He sacrifices his desires for the good of others. That is the meaning of his vegetarianism and faqr. He has no self or ego and is epitome of altruism. To be a Reshi is a realization that mere creedal formulae can’t save. It is to be the object of one’s knowledge or belief. It is not merely consent to a proposition but whole hearted effort to submit to the Truth that makes one a Reshi. Becoming a Reshi is a process and not an event. It is life long commitment to follow a different life. It is not consummated at some point of time. It is life long odyssey. God is the name of perpetual creativity. Life divine is an unfinished project. One never reaches God. God is a perpetual quest, unattainable ideal. Reshi life is a matter of choices that one makes every moment. Seeing God is the last luxury of life and very few can afford it. It costs one everything including one’s soul. It is idle to debate who is a Sufi or a Reshi from outside. Forms must be transcended according to all Sufis if one has to make the great leap to God. There is no address of the man of God. The man of God is trackless, traceless as Rumi says. One wonders how one can judge Sufis or Reshis on the basis of the world of forms which they have realized in depth and then transcended.