Exemplary Papers:

Mystical Connections in Sufism and Hinduism
by Taylor Copus
Grade 11
St. Albans School
Washington D.C.

Mysticism can be defined as an immediate, direct, intuitive knowledge of God or of ultimate reality attained through personal religious experience. It is the impassioned, spiritual quest for "consciousness of the One Reality." Mystics are driven by a hunger for meaning, for knowledge, and inner peace. Mysticism is the "great spiritual current which goes through all religions." The mysticism of all religions is similar in that they are quests for the ultimate reality. Sufism, the mysticism of Islam, shares many of the same attributes as the mysticism the Hinduism incorporates. Each arose out of an attempt to obtain more spiritual gratification. They often use similar metaphors in their explanations of their path. Moreover, they both try to find this "consciousness of the One Reality" by looking in themselves.

Sufism arose out of the quest for some Muslims to find greater meaning in life, God and in Islam itself. The "spiritless legalism" that existed throughout Islam detracted from the overall spiritual value. The search for a "personal union with God" led many Muslims to follow the tariqah, or the path of the mystic, in which the relationship with God was stressed more than Shari'ah, or the traditional law. The goal of tariqah is tawhid, or divine unity (oneness). Shari'ah is considered the outer journey of a Muslim. Many Sufis said that to follow the path of the mystic, one must first be a good Muslim. The inner journey provides greater fulfillment that the mystic is determined to find.

The goal of the mystic is to achieve a divine unity with God in which they experience an-nafs al-mutm'inna, or "soul at peace." This inner peace comes with the knowledge of God. Ibn al-Arabi, the great Sufi writer, said, "Knowledge of Him is inferred in knowledge of ourselves." Therefore a Sufi must have self-knowledge before he can truly have knowledge of God. Ibn al-Arabi goes on to say, "This [knowledge] cannot be arrived at by the intellect by means of any rational thought process, for this kind of perception comes only by a divine disclosure..." This rationality of thought exists as an obstacle for Sufis to overcome on their path to tawhid. Sufis would agree that the "rational thought process" is part of the nafs, or the lower base self, the ego-consciousness. Sufis believe that nafs must be broken down in order that one may find God in their heart. This "self-annihilation," is best represented in the metaphor of finding treasure in a ruined house. "Where ever there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure; why do you not seek the treasure of God in the wasted heart?" One must destroy the foundations to allow God to "build a new mansion." The process of destroying nafs, is called fana, and that which exists after the nullification of the ego-consciousness is called baqa. Baqa is also defined as the "persistence in God," or in other words the new foundation for "God's Mansion."

Sufis believe that God created the world out of loneliness, and as God said through Muhammad, "I was a hidden treasure, and I desired to be known; therefore I created the creation in order that I might be known." God created the earth and humanity to obtain self-realization. "The Reality wanted to see the essences of His Most Beautiful Names or, to put it another way to see His own Essence -- which would reveal to Him His own mystery." Sufis also believe that man is the object or the method through which God realizes himself. Sufis often represent man has a mirror reflecting God's attributes. Annemarie Shimmel describes this image best when she says:

The heart is the dwelling place for God; or it is, in other terminology the mirror in which God reflects himself. But this mirror has to be polished by constant asceticism and by permanent acts of loving obedience until all dust and rust have disappeared and it can reflect the primordial divine light.

Shimmel's explanation is very important because it relates the complexity of the metaphor. The explanation shows how the heart of person, or the soul, is where God is reflected. The heart is then where man should concentrate. The explanation goes further though, mirrors, in the days when this metaphor was created, were made out of metal, not glass. Therefore the metal mirrors had to be kept polished in order that they would be able to reflect. The necessity of polishing represents the constant struggle at finding God.

Some Sufis believe that one's relationship with God is like that of a lover's relationship with his or her loved one. God is often referred to as the "Beloved." Rumi, a great Sufi poet, relates much of the struggles shared by Sufis in their relationship with God in his poem, "Love in Absence." Rumi explains how a lover's separation from his loved one is like that of the mystic's separation from God, and how "his infinite longing for God" inspires him to tell this tale of separation. Rumi says, "I am in love with grief and pain for the sake of pleasing my peerless King." Fakhruddin Iraqi takes the metaphor of the mirror even further by saying, "In each mirror, each moment the Beloved shows a different face, a different shape -- In each mirror, each moment a new face reveals His Beauty." Iraqi is saying God's diversity is reflected in different hearts. Even though all people are inherently different, they all share reflections of God in their hearts. These reflections aren't static though; Iraqi says that God is dynamic, "never twice shows the same face." Iraqi's point helps to reconcile the different explanations of God, by saying, "Expressions are many but Thy loveliness is one."

Hinduism arose out of the Vedic traditions in India. The Vedic traditions were based on the Vedas, a collection of hymns held to be the essential truths, that originated from Aryans that invaded India. At first, early religion was concerned with sacrifices to devas, or deities. Such sacrifices were though to sustain the cosmos. As the Aryan culture absorbed more of the native culture, new teachings began to form. Ascetics began to emerge that developed new ideas and concepts. The sacrifices came to be more ways of obtaining prosperity, long life or immortality in heaven. Eventually people sought more spiritually satisfying methods of religion. Through asceticism, mystics contemplated the mysteries that plague all religions. The mystical approaches soon began to dominate over the materialistic sacrifices.

The new teachings of the mystics were compiled into collections and were added to the other holy texts as the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. The break from the traditional religion, led to the formation of a new orthodoxy of mystical philosophy. Ideas such as dharma, or duty in both a cosmic and personal sense, and karma, the fruits of one's actions, took form. The theory of rebirth and moksha, the release from the cycles of life and death, came into being. All these, and more comprised the new teachings that became the orthodoxy. Devas such as Indra, who had been the chief among devas, lost respect as people turned to the new devas, like Vishnu and Shiva, who had more complex characters. The quest for spiritual satisfaction instigated the slow break from the traditional Vedic beliefs to what has become Hinduism.

The Upanishads led the Hindu religion into a different direction. Their teachings still incorporated the orthodox teachings of the past, but they also brought forth new ideas and discussions on the nature of the soul, creation, and other dilemmas concerning religion. The Hindus, having not been satisfied with sacrifices, turned to more mystical approaches. The Upanishads reflect on this divergence and have a more mystical meaning. One story from the Upanishads clearly relates to Sufism in general. The story is of Nachiketas and his quest for knowledge of life and death.

Nachiketas was sent to the god of death, Yama by his father. Yama was the first man to die, and he became the guardian of the "World of Fathers," or the blissful afterworld. There Nachiketas learned "the supreme wisdom." Yama says to Nachiketas:

Concealed in the heart of all beings is the Atman, the Spirit, the Self; smaller than the smallest atom, greater than the vast spaces. The man who surrenders his human will leaves sorrows behind, and beholds the glory of the Atman by the grace of the Creator.

Who sees the many and not the One, wanders on from death to death.
Who sees variety and not the unity wanders on from death to death.
The powers of life adore that god who is in the heart, and he rules the breath of life, breathing in and breathing out.
Only the wise who see him in their souls attain the joy eternal.
Through knowledge and adoration he attains the peace supreme.

Brahman is seen in a pure soul as in a mirror clear, and also in the Creator's heaven as clear as light. Yama's words show that there is a union of the soul and the all-pervasive reality, Bhraman. Yama says that one must look into his own soul to find Brahman.

This philosophy is known as the Vedanta. The atman, the self, is identified with the Bhraman, the "Great Spirit" or "supreme self of the universe." The appearance of individuality of beings is merely an illusion, or maya. "This illusion can be dispelled through the realization of the essential oneness of atman and Brahman." The Bhagavad Gita, the most sacred part of the great epic, The Mahabharata, also contributes to this mystical approach of Hinduism. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, a great hero, questions Krsna, an incarnation of the deva Vishnu, on the why he should fight a war with his cousins. The question leads to discussion about life, death, duty, and other important features of any religion. Much of what Krsna's says bears importance on the more mystical side of Hinduism. "But those whose unwisdom is made pure by the wisdom of their inner Spirit, their wisdom is unto them a sun and in its radiance they see the Supreme." One's inner spirit is then the guide to the "Supreme," or Bhraman. Krsna goes on to say, "The Lord dwells in the hearts of all men and causes them to turn round by his power as if they were mounted on a machine. Seek shelter in him, and you shall obtain supreme peace and the eternal station by his grace."

Another system of Hindu philosophy, Yoga, presents a form of Hinduism that is very similar to some mystical practices of the Sufis. Those that practice Yoga try to free themselves from the material world, and so become closer to Bhraman. There are stages involved in which the person gains control over his body in order to disengage himself from the entrapments of the world. The final stage of Yoga is said to consist of "contemplation" or the "perfect absorption of thought in the object of knowledge, its union and identification with that object." Knowledge of Bhraman exists where no thought existed. "It leads to an inner illumination, the ecstasy of the true knowledge of reality." Although Yoga does stray from the reasoning that much of Sufism deals with, it represents the true negation of the self-conscious ego in order to become one with the ultimate reality. Sufi and Hindu mystics both agree that path to finding the ultimate reality lies in one's heart or soul. Both use the metaphor of the mirror, that a pure man's soul reflects this reality. There is another metaphor that both religions share. Rum wrote a poem called, "Man the Macrocosm." In it, he compared man to the fruit of the tree. He said that the tree was planted for the sake of the fruit, and therefore, "in reality the tree is born of the fruit." The essence of the tree lies in the fruit. God's essence lies somewhere in humanity. A story from the Upanishads reflects this also. A man asks his son to bring him some fruit from a banyan tree. He has the son open the fruit and then the seed inside the fruit. The father then asks his son what he sees. The son says that he sees nothing. The father replies, "What you do not perceive is the essence, in that essence the mighty banyan tree existsÖIn that essence is the Self of all that is. That is the True, that is the Self." Both writers used the same metaphor of a tree and its fruit, to explain the that Ultimate Reality lies in one's soul.

Whether the writer is Rumi or one of the mysterious, unknown, authors of the Upanishads, all spoke about the same essential truths of Mysticism. Sufism and Hinduism share a common experience in their paths for spiritual gratification. This common trend has led them to use even the same metaphors. Both arose from the same desire for meaning that all of mankind shares.

"Mysticism," Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

p. 4, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Annemarie Shimmel, ( 1975, The University of North Carolina Press, U.S.

p. 4, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, "Sufi Traditions," Zos Imos, ( 1995,

p. 54, The Bezels of Wisdom, Ibn al-Arabi

P.51, The Bezels of Wisdom, Ibn al-Arabi

p.191, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Annemarie Shimmel P.50, The Bezels of Wisdom, Ibn al-Arabi

p. 190, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Annemarie Shimmel "Love in Absence," Rumi

"Flash V", Divine Flashes, Fakhruddin Iraqi

"Flash V", Divine Flashes, Fakhruddin Iraqi

p. 244, The Wonder That Was India, A. L. Basham, ( 1954, Grove Press, Inc. New York, U.S. "From The Upanishads," Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Mysticism," Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"From Bhagavad Gita," Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Bhagavad Gita," p. 125, The Mahabharata, translated by C. V. Narasimhan, ( 1965 Columbia University Press, U.S.

"Yoga," Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Man the Macrocosm," Rumi

p. 250-251, The Upanishads, The Wonder That Was India, A. L. Basham

(© 1999 Taylor Copus)

return to exemplary papers