Friday, July 14, 2017

Ego (Nafs) In Sufism

What is  Nafs?

Ego is not an anatomical structure. It’s not something that you will see on an X-ray. Ego is an informational structure. That’s what the term ego means: it is a Latinized translation of “das Ich,” which is German for “the I.”

 “The I” is “the information” that you have about you. It is a mind made created story. The story is useful but a time comes when the story becomes toxic. “The I” (ego) balances on identification with impermanent information.

So who are we, if we are not who we present ourselves to be? 

Who is housed in our body and why do we have such little knowledge and connection with who we really are?

According to Sufi masters, the conflict between who one really is and who he thinks he is and consequently how he lives his life according to that belief, is  our prison.

There is a Sufi story that the master of the house went away on a trip which took much longer than he originally intended. As time went by, the servant who had the whole house to himself got into the habit of enjoying being his own master and after a while believed that he truly was the master of the house. On his return, the real master faced not a servant any more, but a master who treated him as a servant.

Such is the relationship of the ego-self with the real self. From another perspective, when a person totally identifies with his lower ego-self (nafs) the majority of his thoughts, desires and actions are consequently governed by the ego-self, without a genuine opposing force of the spiritual voice.

When I became a seeker, I started asking people what they wanted in life and their answers always revolved around egoic desires: money; validation from opposite sex; validation from parents; from society------it was all ego noise. They had never gone inside of themselves to ask themselves what they really wanted to do.

Avicenna has listed these false mirrors of ego to dissolve before a seeker can identify his real self;

The Mirror of Reflection
The Mirror of Others’ Minds, 
The Mirror of Possessions 
The Mirror of Body 
The Mirror of Time, Memory
The Mirror of Beloved
The Mirror of Consciousness

We are all captives of these mirrors: we draw our egoic identity from being superior/prettier/richer than other people. Once you study yourself in these mirrors you will see that 9 of these mirrors offer you nothing but distortions - you are not how you look, you are not others’ thoughts about you, you are not your body, you are not even your own thoughts about you, and so on and so
Liberation is a liberation from all boundaries.

There is a deceptively simple tenth century book called the "Creed of Imam al-Tahawi. One of the first lessons is that God is not bound by anything, and is not bound by being not bound by anything. Sufi poets say that true humanity is not bound by anything, that your true essence is locked in a series of cages.

The cage of gender and cast.

The cage is your personal history and the notion of time and memory.
The cage of society, with its institutionalized restrictions (often on appropriate and forbidden relationships).

It’s only the 10th mirror (the Mirror of Consciousness) - the mirror of meditation - the inner mirror - that allows you to catch a true glimpse of your essential self.

Nazism or racism is stuck on the mirror of identity; glorify the one lie you and demonize the one different from you. A racist’s entire identity is defined by the chance of his birth; he is nothing beyond being white or yellow.

To begin with, the mirror gives us only an image, and this is a triviality; A MIRAGE.
You've no idea how hard I've looked for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What's the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.
Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.
It's no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
So- I've brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.  RUMI

The spiritual masters tell us that if we knew the truth and had a glimpse of the divine reality, we would not bother with all the hide and seek of the ego-personality and the unhappy consequences it brings.

As one moves higher up the ladder of the transformation of the nafs, the inner spiritual voice grows stronger and helps one to distinguish between right and wrong, true and false and it gets guided in taking steps in the right direction with more ease.

The lowest level of the self, the ego or lower personality, is made up of impulses, or drives, to satisfy desires. The self is a product of the self-centered consciousness - the ego, the "I." The self must be transformed - this is the ideal. The self is like a wild horse; it is powerful and virtually uncontrollable. As the self-becomes trained or transformed, it becomes capable of serving the individual. 

Sheikh Muzaffer has written,

The self is not bad in itself. Never blame your self. Part of the work of Sufism is to change the state of your self. The lowest state is that of being completely dominated by your wants and desires. The next state is to struggle with yourself, to seek to act according to reason and higher ideals and to criticize yourself when you fail. A much higher state is to be satisfied with whatever God provides for you, whether it means comfort or discomfort, fulfillment of physical needs or not.

 The Seven Stages of Self ( Nafs) in Sufism

The Basic Self
The first level has also been described as the domineering self or the self that incites to evil. The commanding self seeks to dominate and to control each individual. At this level there is unbridled selfishness and no sense of morality or compassion.

Descriptions of this level are similar to descriptions of the id in psychoanalytic theory; it is closely linked to lust and aggression. These have been called the swine and the dogs of the self - the sensual traits are like swine, the ferocious ones like fierce dogs or wolves. Wrath, greed, sensual appetites, passion, and envy are examples of traits at this level of the self. This is the realm of physical and egoistic desires.

At this level, people are like addicts who are in denial. Their lives are dominated by uncontrollable addictions to negative traits and habits, yet they refuse to believe they have a problem. They have no hope of change at this level because they do not acknowledge any need to change.

The Contemplative  Self

People who have not developed beyond the first level are unaware and unconscious. As the light of faith grows, insight dawns, perhaps for the first time. The negative effects of a habitually self-centered approach to the world become apparent to the regretful self. You begin to examine yourself and your addiction.

At this level, wants and desires still dominate, but now the person repents from time to time and tries to follow higher impulses. As Sheikh Muzaffer points out,
There is a battle between the self, the lower self, and the soul. This battle will continue through life. The question is, Who will educate whom? Who will become the master of whom? If the soul becomes the master, then you will be a believer, one who embraces Truth. If the lower self-becomes master of the soul, you will be one who denies Truth.

At this second level, people do not yet have the ability to change their way of life in a significant way. However, as they see their faults more clearly, their regret and desire for change grow. At this level, people are like addicts who are beginning to understand the pain they have caused themselves and others. The addiction is still far too strong to change. That requires far stronger medicine.

The Seeking Self

At the next level, the seeker begins to take genuine pleasure in prayer, meditation, and other spiritual activities. Only now does the individual taste the joys of spiritual experience. Now the seeker is truly motivated by ideals such as compassion, service, and moral values. This is the beginning of the real practice of Sufism. Before this stage, the best anyone can accomplish is superficial outer understanding and mechanical outer worship.

Though one is not free from desires and ego, this new level of motivation and spiritual experience significantly reduces the power of these forces for the first time. What is essential here is to live in terms of higher values.There is a battle between the self, the lower self, and the soul. This battle will continue through life. The question is, Who will educate whom? Who will become the master of whom? If the soul becomes the master, then you will be a believer, one who embraces Truth.

 If the lower self-becomes master of the soul, you will be one who denies Truth.

At this second level, people do not yet have the ability to change their way of life in a significant way. However, as they see their faults more clearly, their regret and desire for change grow. At this level, people are like addicts who are beginning to understand the pain they have caused themselves and others. The addiction is still far too strong to change. That requires far stronger medicine.

The Contented Self

The seeker is now at peace.

The struggles of the earlier stages are basically over. The old desires and attachments are no longer binding. The ego-self begins to let go, allowing the individual to come more closely in contact with the Divine.

If one accepts difficulties with the same overall sense of security with which one accepts benefits, it may be said that one has attained the level of the contented self. Developmentally, this level marks a period of transition. The self can now begin to "disintegrate" and let go of all previous concern with self-boundaries and then begin to "reintegrate" as an aspect of the universal self.

The Surrendered Self

At this stage the individual is not only content with his or her lot, but pleased with even the difficulties and trials of life, realizing that these difficulties come from God. The state of the pleased self is very different from the way we usually experience the world, focused on seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. A Sufi story illustrates this:

Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna once shared a cucumber with Ayaz, his most loyal and beloved companion. Ayaz happily ate his half of the cucumber, but when the sultan bit into his half, it was so bitter he immediately spit it out."How could you manage to eat something so bitter? the sultan exclaimed, "it tasted like chalk or like bitter poison!"My beloved sultan," answered Ayaz, "I have enjoyed so many favors and bounties from your hand that whatever you give me tastes sweet."

When a person's love and gratitude to God reach this level, he or she has reached the stage of the pleased self.
The Self Pleasing to God

Those who have reached the next stage realize that all power to act comes from God, that they can do nothing by themselves. They no longer fear anything or ask for anything.

The Sufi sage Ibn 'Arabi described this level as the inner marriage or self and soul. The self pleasing to God has achieved genuine inner unity and wholeness. At earlier stages, people struggle with the world because they experience multiplicity. A broken mirror creates a thousand different reflections of a single image. If the mirror could be made whole again, it would then reflect the single, unified image. By healing the multiplicity within, the Sufi experiences the world as whole and unified.

The Pure Self

Those few who attain the final level have transcended the self entirely. There is no ego or separate self-left, only union with God. At this stage, the individual has truly realized the truth, "There is no god but God." The Sufi now knows that there is nothing but God, that only the Divine exists, and that any sense of individuality or separateness is an illusion.

Rumi illuminates this state for us:
If you could get rid
Of yourself just once,
The secret of secrets
Would open to you.
The face of the unknown,
Hidden beyond the universe
Would appear on the
Mirror of your perception

Is God telling us only stories or is He showing us the way to remove the distorted identity and to become who we are created to be and reach the goal that was intended for us? 

Allah says:
And so We propound these parables unto man: but none can grasp their innermost meaning save those who are aware.” - Qur'an 29:43

Nothing can kill the nafs like the shadow of the master

hold tight to his skirt for he is a good killer of your self
Your lower self is after material affairs
         how long will you trade in unworthy affairs, give them up
Someone who says ‘I am thinking to deny my lower self’
         is still captive to the lower self

And he who says, ‘God is merciful and kind’
         is also being manipulated by that wretched self

We are being warned that the most important work of the seeker is the difficult task of subduing the authority of the nafs, as it is our most dangerous enemy. One metaphor used to describe how one must deal with the self is:

Imprisoning it - killing it - burning it - and scattering its ashes.

Sufism imprisons the self. Abstaining from materialism kills it. Love of God burns it. 

Gnosis scatters the ashes of the self, eliminating all of its traces.

Until one hair strand of your being you, remains
          the business of vanity and self-praise, remains
You said, ‘I broke the idol of my mind, therefore I am free’
          this idol ‘that you are free from your mind’, still remains
                                                                              Moulana Rumi

The ego uses everything for its own benefit, including truth, justice, fairness and even God. It even worships God to get something in return. Therefore the self-needs to be dismantled.

A true believer and an infidel both say ‘God’
          but there is a difference between the two
The beggar (infidel) says ‘God’ for the sake of bread
          the true believer says ‘God’ in his very soul” 
                                                                              Moulana Rumi

The Qalaba( heart) is sandwiched between the nafs( EGO) and the Rooh(SOUL) The entire objective of annihilation is to destroy the nafs to that Heart can recognise the soul.Sudi's say soul has the spark of divine as in Quran, its mentioned" all souls come from God".

The nature of fanaa consists of the elimination of evil deeds and lowly attributes of the flesh. In other words, fanaa is abstention from sin and the expulsion from the heart of all love other than the Divine Love; expulsion of greed, lust, desire, vanity, show, etc. In the state of fanaa the reality of the true and only relationship asserts itself in the mind.

One realizes and feeds that the only real relationship is with Allah Ta'ala fanaa means to destroy your self. if you destroy your self in the love of Allah then that fanaa will convert into entire life means abdi zindgi. and for that one you have to destroy your will and yourself on the will of Allah.

In the death of the ego love is born, God is born, light is born. In the death of the ego you are transformed; all misery disappears as if it had never existed. Your life right now is a nightmare. When the ego dies nightmares disappear and a great sweetness arises in your being, and a subtle joy, for no reason at all. Beyond this is the stage of intimacy (uns) at which the immanence of the Lord is perceived:

If we can break through the illusion of identifying with our ego as the only reality; we would find our true soul purpose.  

Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) says:
“He who knows his self knows his Lord.”

Prophet Jesus (pbuh) says:

“One who knows all, but is lacking in oneself, is utterly lacking.” 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Is Sufism a part of Islam?

Some friends wrote to me and accused Sufism of being heretical: because Sufi's used exotic methods like walking on fire or walking in ice in Siberia to awaken the light within or because Sufi Masters don't preach killing infidels and unveiled women. 

Google search volume of the term Sufism includes comparisons between Sufism and Islam and some videos by ( I am sure) Saudi-funded Wahhabi evangelist on differences between Sufism and Islam. 

A converted Muslim friend confessed to me that Sufi practices were too novel for him and smelled of local pagan influences and Prophet Muhammad probably never practiced breathing meditation and asked incredulously Is Sufism really a part of Islam?

Yes.Sufism is a part of Islam, in fact, it's the hidden pearl within the shell. 

The history of Sufism records that during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, fifteen centuries ago, there was a group of pious individuals alongside him who seeked an inner understanding of the message. 

From various hadiths and biographies of the Prophet, their presence and influence can be assessed( if you are a skeptic that is). It is from this group that all the schools of Sufism that have ever existed owe their origin, for by pursuing the path of unsullied inner knowledge they were the founders of Sufism and the binding link between its subsequent developments

These individuals sought for the direct experience of the Divine.They were hungry.They were the seekers.These men recognized that Prophet Muhammad knew the mysteries of the heart.
These individuals met on the platform, or suffe, of the mosque where Prophet Mohammed used to pray in Medina, Arabia. They would meet there almost everyday to discuss the ways to inner knowledge, the truths of revelation, and debate the meanings of the revelations of the prophet Muhammad. The platform of that mosque in Medina became the first gathering place of one of the most influential groups in the history of mankind's spiritual civilization. They were called Ahle suffe, the People of the Platform.


Among the most famous of these companions were: Salman Farsi, Ammar Yasser, Balla'al, and Abdullah Masoud; some historians have added Oveyse Gharani to this list as well. Avoiding proselytizing among the multitude, their gatherings were held in private, open only to true seekers of reality. Instead of preaching in public, these pious individuals were searchers for truth, not performers of rhetoric or seekers of the glory.

After the Prophet (PBUH) passed away, each of the people of suffe returned to his homeland to instruct students eager to follow the path of inner knowledge. History shows that within a century or two their style of self-understanding and discipline were introduced by their students to nations as diverse and widely separated as Persia, India, Indonesia, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and North Africa.

Over the centuries, Sufism spread throughout the Islamic world and beyond, with most Sufis being strict followers of Islam, though some were persecuted by the Islamic orthodoxy.The conquest of Spain by the Muslim Moors meant Jews, Muslims and Christians were able to live there harmoniously until the fifteenth century, creating a culture of superb beauty and intelligence which lasted until the Jews and Muslims were banished to Byzantium, and which gave Sufism entrance into the rest of backward Europe. 

The late Hugh Schonfield, a noted Jewish scholar and author, says that by the third century CE Sufi schools were well established in the Middle East, particularly in Mosul, the heart of the old Assyrian kingdom. There the Sufis were joined by many Jewish refugees from Egypt fleeing Roman persecution.

The result was a chain of hybrid secret societies around the globe whose roots were buried deep in a freedom-loving soil compounded of Sufism, Magian wisdom and the Solomonic and Hermetic wisdom of the Egyptian Essenes all influenced sufi ideology. 

Sufism was  a grass root revival of esoteric doctrines which sometimes incorporated many elements from Christian monasticism to Jewish Kabbalah.

God doesn't write anywhere in Quran that you can only understand HIM through one way rather HE majestically says: 
The East and the West both belong to me.
Other than HIM, who can render anything as "un-Islamic" or heretic.

But the paths and rituals of Sufism are not pagan in fact they have been handed down all the way from Abraham but to understand that you will have to open the forbidden books of Old Testament and ponder over some dusty texts rather than listen to the newest myopic sermon from a televangelist.

Hakim Jami, a twelfth-century Sufi master, recounts how translations of Plato, Hippocrates, Pythagoras, and Hermes lay on an unbroken line of Sufi transmission, thus making a causal connection between Sufism and the Greek Mystery schools of antiquity.

The Sufi philosophy was developed and promoted by medieval Muslim philosophers such as Ibn-Arabi , Averroës (known in the Islamic world as Ibn-i-Rushd), Avicenna and Farabi, who, for their Islamic Aristotelianism, were often referred to as the Oriental Peripatetics. This school of thought was greatly saturated with Plato and Aristotelian metaphysics. The Sufis created a vast body of a literary and poetic heritage.

Through this process of diffusion, different schools and orders of Sufism gradually emerged from the single original group of suffe at Medina. Their practices differ from one another in emphasis and doctrine, but all legitimate Sufi schools trace their ultimate origins back to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad and Islam.

As a Sufi, I don't consider it unislamic or heretic that Sufism was influenced by Greek Philosophy or Christian monasticism or even Kabbalah OR influenced all of these simultaneously.

There were Sufi's who tried to find God through numbers or in verse or by turning metal into Gold or by wandering in to deserts seeking a sight of the beloved.

Some prayed by whirling and some by hydra breathing exercises.

Some stood naked in rivers reciting Quran and some traveled to heathen lands to preach God's message.

These were all sacred quests of man to understand the ultimate reality and it is up to Allah to accept their devotion and prayers.

Truth is, and Quran is quite clear on this: No one and I mean no one including the Prophet (PBUH) could make windows in to the souls of men and judge their faith. Prophet refrained from it and advised rather admonished his followers never to make judgments.

 But these modern day crusaders who know next to nothing about history of Islam believe they are in direct communion with God and can excommunicate anyone from Islam because they are so righteous. 

I am no arbitrator and nor should you be one.

The only Arbitrator is HIM.


What is Sufism?

A seeker emailed and asked, "What is Sufism?"

And I was stunned into silence because how do you encapsulate an ocean into a drop. Sufism is fundamentally indefinable as Nicholson observed long ago, it can only be felt. 

It is our Prophet's long vigils in Hira for enlightenment; it is Majnun's pursuit for Laila; it is Hallaj's last bloody sacrifice on the cross.

I would let the sages define it for you, and you can absorb their words to understand what -essentially-cannot be understood.

What is a Sufi in Islam?

Here is the simplest definition:

“He is a Sufi whose religion is God.”

For the Ascetics, Sufism is: " the practice of adopting every higher quality and leaving every lower quality" in the words of Patriarch of Sufism and one of the most ascetic & devout Sufi Junaid Baghdadi.

BaYazid Bistami, the sublime Sheikh said:" Sufism consists in giving up repose, and accepting suffering."

For the Freethinkers: Abu’l-Hasan al-Nuri, a great early Sufi:

Sufism is not rituals and forms and is not bodies of knowledge, not doctrines, not ideas, not theories. But it is impeccable manner, the manner of the lover in the presence of the Beloved.”

Each of those answers differs. Each of those answers is a facet of the single reality that is the meaning of being a Sufi.
Choose the ne which most clicks with your inner reality.

For the mystical-minded---a definition from Sufi named Abu’l-Hasan Bushanji:

Sufism today is a name without a reality that was once a reality without a name.”

That was said back in the eighth or ninth century.

And this from Ibn al-Jalla:

Sufism is an essence, a truth. There is no form, no ritual, no custom in it. It is pure essence.”

These two sayings go together. Sufism was a reality that has now become a form and has now become a name that is no longer a reality. It is a tradition which encompasses all the mystical traditions in it.

What is a Sufi mystic?

A Sufi mystic is in Ishan Kaiser's description"

" the actual temple of fire worshiper; the priest of Magian; the inner reality of cross legged Brahman meditating; the brush and color of the artist.

The Sufis have always recognized the process whereby a hidden secret is institutionalized, commodified and known to the world as a form while the Sufis themselves, in secret, concealed its essence and carried on. This has happened over the generations. Time after time a transmission has been passed down from person to person from heart to heart without intermediary, always from heart to heart.

Who is a Sufi?

For the Bohemians ( and a personal favorite of mine) a definition from a very great early Sufi, Abu’l-Hasan al-Nuri.

“The Sufi is one who possesses nothing and is possessed by nothing.”

In the East, you will find fakirs who interpret this very literally. They possess nothing. They are wandering mendicants who own nothing. And there are others who live in palaces in great opulence but are completely detached from the wealth, ready to release it at any moment. They are playing a role in the world. That is the essence of what is meant by not possessing and not being possessed. Possessing means grasping, being addicted, being unable to part with something.

And now another definition for the New Agists Abu Muhammad Murta’ish:

The Sufi is the one whose thought keeps pace with his footstep. The one who is where she stands. The one who is present here with feet firmly planted on the earth. The one in whom body and soul are united in presence, in awareness.”

The Sufi is addicted, being unable to part with only one thing and that is the One Being who is ever-present and can never be lost or stolen. So one finds that the less one possesses, psychically possesses, the less one is possessed. Because of all the things of life, as one collects them, just weigh one down. Of course, there will come a time, whether in this life or in the next when everything, item by item, will have to be released. Sufi lives in the Now!

And for the Eternal Lovers, beautiful words from Al-Shibli, who was a great mad friend of al-Hallaj. When al-Hallaj was sentenced to death and people were throwing stones at him, al-Shibli threw a rose. He used to frequent the asylums of his day and People weren't sure if he was totally mad or totally sane. He said:

A Sufi does not see in the two worlds, in this world and the hereafter, anything with God except God. Nothing in addition to God.”

In every situation, in every place, at every time, in every relationship, the Sufi keeps coming back to the One and sees the innumerable masks as veils on the face of a single infinite personality, divine being.

Not for a single moment does the Sufi imagine that anything could be additional, recognizing immediately, intuitively, that everything is essentially singular in its essence. The Sufi recognizes that this whole manifestation is one phantasmagoria that is the refraction and reflection of a single Light.

And now finally, these words of Shaykh Abu Yazid Bistami: on of the greatest of all Sufi saints

“The Sufis are like infants in the bosom of God.”

To be a Sufi is to be in that state of reliance, assurance, loving resonance, non-individuated consciousness, feeling oneself enclosed in a loving embrace that is eternal and infinite and irrevocable, knowing the essence of reality to be not ambivalent but in truth essentially compassionate, accepting, forgiving, nurturing. Infinite mercy. Eternal compassion. These are no longer theories or wishful thinking but one’s essential experience, incontrovertibly true because one resides in the embrace of the Divine Love. It is to be in a state of complete trust in Allah!

In the past five years that I have been a Sufi seeker, my understanding about Sufism has deepened every day and yet I still don't feel I understand enough. Sufism is like theory of relativity, its understanding constantly evolves as the seeker's perspective evolves but I hope these words can spell some misconceptions about Sufism and what it really means to be a Sufi!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Sufi Prince and Martyr: Dara Shikoh

Dara Shikoh, was a Sufi martyr whose death changed the course of India's history and had a profound effect on Muslim-Hindu relations. 

Dara was killed by his brother Emperor Aurangzab as a punishment for being an apostate.

He wasn't one!
He was a seeker of Allah who went to forbidden places to understand our Creator and tried to create unity in the world. 
For his troubles like Sufi martyres before him, he was beheaded. 

The tension between the two polar opposites: a puritan strain and an inclusive strain-- is dramatically reflected in the 17th century — at the high noon of the Mughal Empire in India.

Two sons of the Emperor Shah Jehan presented us again with the two distinct models of South Asian Islam: Dara Shikoh was the inclusivist par excellence — while Aurangzeb was the exclusivist par excellence.

Dara Shukoh was a born poet, a virtuoso calligrapher and painter, apart from his being a sufi with the seal of royalty on him. 
Dara Shikoh was a mystic who spent his time with Sufis and Yogis, who enjoyed devotional music — and who oversaw the translation of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads.

Always a good Muslim, he never wished to abandon Islam — but to expand its boundaries.

On the other hand, Aurangzeb drew the boundaries tightly around Islam. He stood for a formal literal and orthodox Islam — and he lived in austerity. He spent his spare time reading the Qur'an.

The inevitable clash between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb — and the total victory of Aurangzeb in 1658 — would cast shadows on Muslim society into the future and change the course of South Asian history.

The next centuries saw the depletion of compassion, vitality and learning in Muslim society. The middle of the 19th century and the advent of Western imperialism presented a major crisis for Muslim society.

Dara was ahead of his time, had he come into power: the Mughal dynasty may not have engaged in costly civil war with Hindu subjects; would not have persecuted Shias leading to independence of Deccan and Awadh---and the British may not have invaded India; weakened by its civil wars. 

Dara’s was a unique among the Mughal royal family. He was entirely distinct in all respects from other princes of the entire Mughal house since the establishment of the Mughal rule in 1526 till its ultimate extinction in 1857. He had no likings for luxuries and sensual pleasures but had developed refined tastes in his life. In fact, he had combined in himself the qualities of his two great ancestors Humayun and Akbar. 

The habit of passing more and more time in the Library to acquire knowledge was inherited by him from Humayun who had lost his life while descending the stairs of the royal Library, while the interest in comparative religions, universal brotherhood, humanism, and peace, came from the great emperor Akbar. These influences played a notable role in shaping his mind. His great mission in life was the promotion of peace and concord between the followers of Hinduism and Islam. 

The game of ifs can be played that if Dara had not lost; Puritanism would have been defeated and India would have blossomed under an Emperor who translated Upanishad.

Instead, the royal heir with eyes of his mother TajMahal and heart of a Sufi; died crying out to Allah; paying for the crime of being different and a Sufi!

Dara Shikoh’s quest for a universal Sufi ethic

The Mughals were sophisticated intellectuals, royal princes were schooled in Theology and philosophy; Dara as a crown prince displayed mystical tendencies and sought the company of dervishes like Budha before him. This was the most prosperous time in Mughal history and after his death, only ruin and civil wars lay ahead. 

DARA's initiation into Sufism:

At the age of 19, Dara Shikoh recovered from a serious illness after visiting Hazrat Mian Mir, the Sufi sage of Lahore. His faith in the power of saints and his interest in religion were firmly established. In 1640 he became a disciple of Mullah Shah, one of Mian Mir’s successors. It was in Lahore where he wrote a book containing biographies of Sufi saints. A biography of Mian Mir and his principal disciples followed two years later. He also wrote brief Sufi pamphlets, one of which was a reply to those who criticised him for his statements.Dara Shikoh was a follower of Lahore's famous Qadiri Sufi Saint Mian Mir, whom he was introduced to by Mullah Shah Badakhshi (Mian Mir's spiritual disciple and successor). 

Dara talking to Hindu holy men
His writings fall into two broad categories;
The first consists of books on Sufism and Muslim saints, the most prominent of these being the Safinat ul-Auliya, the Sakinat ul-Auliya, the Risala-i Haq Numa, the Tariqat ul-Haqiqat, the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin and the Iksir-i ‘Azam. 

The second consists of writings on parallels between Muslim and Hindu mysticism, such as the Majma’ ul-Bahrain, the Mukalama-i Baba Lal Das wa Dara Shikoh, the Sirr-i Akbar, and his Persian translations of the Yoga Vashishta and the Gita.

Dara’s close and friendly interaction with non-Muslim mystics led him to seek to establish bridges of understanding between Sufism and local or Indic forms of mysticism. 

Throughout this endeavor, his fundamental concern was the quest for the discovery of the Unity of God, seeking to draw out commonalities in the scriptures of the Hindus and the Muslims. 

You dwell in the Ka'aba and in Somnath [a famous Shaivite Hindu temple]
And in the hearts of the enamoured lovers.

In his teenage, Dara was held hostage in his Grandfather Jahangir's palace; Jahangir was an heir of Emperor Akbar's pantheism and unitarian philophy, it is widely believed that Dara imbibed the toleran and intellectually curious spirit while there. 

He was accepted to be, in Sufi and non-Muslim circles, an incarnation of his great-grandfather Akbar the Great who also was an advocate of Wahdat-ul-Wajud. Dara Shukoh expresses the fact thus:
The wise see not a second in essence we and you are mere calling words,
 See One contained evident in many - See One hath formed in shapes many.

Wahdat-ul-Wajud postulates that, "The absolute is the One creator of all creatures and is pervading into all." Sheikh Ibn Irabi is accepted to be the founder of this doctrine though in itself, it is as old as the Upanishads. 

Dara expresses his motives for reading other mystical traditions in his Persian translation of the Upanishads, the Sirr ul-Akbar (‘The Great Secret’) thus:

Read them and decide for yourself if these are the words of an apostate or a lover of Allah.

And whereas I was impressed with a longing to behold the Gnostic doctrines of every sect and to hear their lofty expressions of monotheism and had cast my eyes upon many 
theological books and had been a follower thereof for many years, my passion for beholding the Unity [of God], which is a boundless ocean, increased every moment. […] Thereafter, I began to ponder as to why the discussion of monotheism is so conspicuous in India and why the Indian [Hindu] mystics and theologians of ancient India do not disavow the Unity of God, nor do they find any fault with the Unitarians.” 

DARA was an accomplished poet, his collection of poems, the Diwan, also known as the Iksir-i 'Azam was wellread in his own time. Some of the verses from the Diwan, given below, suggest the train of Dara's mystical thought:

ShahJahan receiving Dara

On Monotheism [tauhid]
Look where you can, All is He,
God's face is ever face to face.

Whatever you behold except Him is the object of your fancy,

Things other than He have an existence like a mirage.
The existence of God is like a boundless ocean,

People are like forms and waves in its water.
Though I do not consider myself separate from Him,
Yet I do not consider myself God.
Whatever relation the drop bears with the ocean,
That I hold true in my belief, and nothing beyond.

We have not seen an atom separate from the Sun,

Every drop of water is the sea in itself.
With what name should one call the Truth?
Every name that exists is one of God's names.

On Divine Love;

O Thou, from whose very name rains Love abundant!
And from your message rains Love!
Whoever passes through Your street realizes
That indeed from the very door to the terrace of Your house rains l love!

On the Mystical Path

Turn to none except God,
The rosary and the sacred thread are but only a means to an end.
All this piety is conceit and hypocrisy,
How can it be worthy of our Beloved?.

Dara praying in Red Mosque
Kingship is easy, acquaint yourself with poverty,
Why should a drop become a pearl when it can transform itself into an ocean?.

Hands soiled with gold begin to stink,

How awful is the plight of the soul soiled with gold!
Day and night you hear of people dying,
You, too, have to die. How strange is your behaviour!.

The more a traveller is unencumbered,

The less he feels worried on his journey.
You, too, are a traveller in this world,
Take this as certain, if you are wakeful.
Drive egoism away from you,
For, like conceit and arrogance, it is also a burden.
So long as you live in this world, be independent,
The Qadri has warned you!
Whoever recognised this, carried the day,
He who lost himself, found Him.
And he who sought Him not within his own self,
Passed away, carrying his quest along with him.
The Qadri found his Beloved within his own self,
Being himself of good disposition, he won the favour of the Good.

To whatever object you may turn your face, He is in view,

Are you blind, for why do you assign Him to yourself?

The text that he prepared, the Sirr ul-Akbar (‘The Great Secret’) was completed in 1657. Here, he opines that the ‘great secret’ of the Upanishads is the monotheistic message, which is identical to that on which the Qur’an is based! ( sending Modi a translation!)

Dara’s Muslim critics, particularly among the Sunni ‘ulema (in his own time, down to our own) berated him for allegedly renouncing Islam or for allegedly mixing Islam with ‘infidelity’.

It's an accusation leveled against anyone who tries to broaden his spiritual horizons ( yours truly has also been accused of being a bad Muslim quite a few times).

Dara then proceeded to detail the purpose behind translating the Upanishads in answering his critics.

He writes that in the year 1050 A.H. he visited Kashmir, and there he met Hazrat Mullah Shah, whom he describes as ‘the flower of the Gnostics, the tutor of the tutors, the sage of the sages, the guide of the guides, the Unitarians accomplished in the Truth’.
Prince Dara opening a hindu temple

Thereafter, he says, he was filled with a longing to ‘behold the Gnostics of every sect and to hear the lofty expressions of monotheism’. 

Hence, he says, he began his search for monotheism in other scriptures as well, including the Torah of the Jews (Taurat), the Gospels of Jesus (Injil) the Psalms of David (Zabur), and, in addition, the books of the ancient Hindus. 

He notes with approval the fact that certain Hindu ‘theologians and mystics’ (‘ulama-i zahiri wa batini) actually believe in One God, but laments that ‘the ignoramuses of the present age’, who claim to be authorities in matters of religion, have completely distorted this fundamental truth. 

In actual fact, Dara’s commitment to Islam was unquestionable, although, obviously, his understanding of Islam was in marked contrast to that of his ‘orthodox’ Sunni critics.

Dara explicitly declares his Qadri credentials in his books, confessing:

 ‘Nothing attracts me more than this Qadri order, which has fulfilled my spiritual aspirations’.

Dara’s third book on Sufism, the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin or ‘The Aphorisms of the Gnostics’, consists of the sayings of 107 Sufis of various spiritual orders. In his introduction, Dara explains why he wrote the book: “I was enamored of studying books on the ways of the men of the Path and had in my mind nothing save the understanding of the Unity of God.”
Dara visting Hazrat Mian Mir

Perhaps what really offended Ulema was that, in line with numerous other mystics, Dara was bitterly critical of ritualism in the name of religion, which tended to substitute for genuine devotion.

In the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin, Dara bitterly criticizes self-styled ‘ulama who, ignoring the inner dimension of the faith, focus simply on external rituals and made Islam for appearance's sake only ( the wahhabi's would make an apperaence soon)

His critique is directed against mindless ritualism emptied of inner spiritual content,. Thus, he says:

May the world be free from the noise of the mulla
And none should pay any heed to their fatwas.

As for those religious scholars and priests who claim to be religious authorities but have actually little or no understanding at all of the true spirit of religion, Dara writes, ‘As a matter of fact, these are ignoramuses to themselves and learned to the ignorant’, and adds the following couplet:

Every prophet and saint suffered afflictions and torments,
Due to the vicious and ignominious conduct of the mullah.

The term ‘mullah’ here is thus not a class just limited to Muslims alone. It comes to stand for exploitative religious professionals.

In his Risala-i Haq Numa, Dara discusses the various stages on the Sufi path, where the seeker (salik) is shown as starting from the ‘alam-i nasut or ‘the physical plane’, and, passing through various stages, finally reaching the ‘alam-i lahut or ‘the plane of Absolute Truth’. 

Some of the physical exercises employed by the Sufis that are described in the Risala-i HaqNuma are shown by Dara to be similar to those used by the Hindu Tantriks and Yogis. These include astral healing and concentration on the centers of meditation in the heart and brain.  

Further, he suggests that the four planes through which the Sufi seeker’s journey takes him—nasut , jabrut, malakut and lahut—correspond to the Hindu concept of the avasthanam or the four ‘states’ of jagrat, swapna, shushpati and turiya.

By stressing the similarities, or identicalness, of the concept of the planes in both Hindu and Muslim mystical systems, Dara seems to argue that, at root, both stem from a common tauhidic tradition, the differences between them, as suggested by their different terminology, being apparent—only linguistic—and not real.

The most well-known of Dara’s several works on the religious sciences of the Hindus is his Majma ul-Bahrain (‘The Mingling of the Two Oceans’). Completed when Dara was forty-two years old, this book is a pioneering attempt to build on the similarities between Sufism and certain strands of Hindu monotheistic thought, and it is these two that the ‘two oceans’ in the book’s name refer to. 

The Majma-ul Bahrain is divided into twenty-two sections, in each of which Dara seeks to draw out the similarities between Hindu and Sufi concepts and teachings.

Thus, for instance, the Hindu notion of mutki, he says, is identical with the Sufi concept of salvation, denoting the annihilation (fana) of the self in God. Or, for example, the Sufi concept of ‘ishq (love) is said to be identical with the maya of the Hindu monotheists.

 From Love, says Dara, was born the ‘great soul’, alternately known as the soul of Muhammad to the Sufis, and mahatman or hiranyagarba to the Hindus.

The following is from Dara Shikoh's introduction to his work on the Upanishads, in which he refers to himself in the third person.

"Whereas this unsolicitous fakir Muhammad Dara Shikoh in the year 1050 after Hijra [AD 1640] went to Kashmir" And whereas, he was impressed with a longing to behold the Gnostics of every sect, and to hear the lofty expressions of monotheism, and had cast his eyes upon many books of mysticism and had written a number of treatises thereon, and as the thirst of investigation for unity, which is a boundless ocean, became every moment increased, subtle doubts came into his mind for which he had no possibility of solution, except by the word of the Lord and the direction of the Infinite.

"And whereas the holy Quran is mostly allegorical and at the present day persons thoroughly conversant with the subtleties thereof are very rare, he became desirous of bringing in view all the heavenly books, for the very words of God themselves are their own commentary; and what might be in one book compendious, in another might be found diffusive, and from the detail of one, the conciseness of the other might become comprehensible. He had, therefore, cast his eyes on the Book of Moses, the Gospels, the Psalms, and other scriptures but the explanation of monotheism in them also was compendious and enigmatical, and from the slovenly translations which selfish persons had made, their purport was not intelligible.

"Thereafter he considered, as to why the discussion about monotheism is so conspicuous in India and why the Indian theologians and mystics of the ancient school do not disavow the Unity of God nor do they find any fault with the Unitarians, but their belief is perfect in this respect; on the other hand, the ignoramuses of the present age " the highwaymen in the path of God " who have established themselves for erudite and who, falling into the trances of polemics and molestation, and apostatizing through disavowal of the true proficient in God and monotheism, display resistance against all the words of Unitarianism, which are most evident from the glorious Quran and the authentic traditions of indubitable prophecy."

Dara in a sufi khaiqah

Dara Shikoh here mentions the four Vedas by name and states their hoary age. He quotes the Quran to say that prophets could be found in every tradition, and then continues: 

And the summum bonum of these four books, which contain all the secrets of the Path and the contemplative exercises of pure monotheism, are called the Upanekhats [Upanishads], and the people of that time have written commentaries with complete and diffusive interpretations thereon; and being still understood as the best part of their religious worship, they are always studied. And whereas this unsolicitous seeker after the Truth had in view the principle of the fundamental unity of the personality and not Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew, and Sanskrit languages, he wanted to make without any worldly motive, in a clear style, an exact and literal translation of the Upanekhats into Persian. For it is a treasure of monotheism and there are few thoroughly conversant with it even among the Indians. Thereby he also wanted to solve the mystery which underlies their efforts to conceal it from the Muslims.

"And as at this period the city of Banaras, which is the centre of the sciences of this community, was in certain relations with this seeker of the Truth, he assembled together the pundits and the sannyasis, who were the most learned of their time and proficient in the Upanekhats in the year 1067 after Hijra; and thus every difficulty and every sublime topic which he had desired or thought and had looked for and not found, he obtained from the essences of the most ancient books, and without doubt or suspicion, these books are first of all heavenly books in point of time, and the source and the fountainhead of the ocean of unity, in conformity with the holy Quran.

"Happy is he, who has abandoned the prejudices of vile selfishness, sincerely and with the grace of God, renouncing all partiality, shall study and comprehend this translation entitled The Greatest Secret [Sirr-i-Akbar], knowing it to be a translation of the words of God. He shall become imperishable, fearless, unsolicitous, and eternally liberated.

However, the spiritual stand that Dara who hated the rigidity of religious fundamentalists took did not go well with Aurangazeb who had by then managed to come up in the struggle for the throne and had all the power of the empire firmly in his hands. 


Dara's Army

On 10 September 1642, Shah Jahan formally confirmed Dara as his heir, granting him the title of Shahzada-e-Buland Iqbal ("Prince of High Fortune") and promoting him to command of 20,000-foot and 20,000 horse. In 1645, he was appointed as subadar (governor) of Allahabad. He was promoted to a command of 30,000-foot and 20,000 horse on 18 April 1648, and was appointed Governor of the province of Gujarat on 3 July.

But on 6 September 1657, the illness of emperor Shah Jahan triggered a desperate struggle for power among the four Mughal princes, though realistically only Dara and Aurangzeb had a chance of emerging victorious.

Dara was defeated by Aurangzeb and Murad on 14 February 1658, during the Battle of Samugarh, 13 km from Agra. Subsequently Aurangzeb took over Agra fort and deposed emperor Shah Jahan on 8 June 1658.

After this defeat Dara fled to Sindh and sought refuge under Malik Jiwan, an Afghan chieftain, whose life he had saved on more than one from the wrath of Shah Jahan. However, Malik betrayed Dara and turned him (and his second son Sipihr Shikoh) over to Aurangzeb's army on 10 June 1659.

Dara was brought to Delhi, placed on a filthy elephant and paraded through the streets of the capital in chains. Dara's fate was decided by the political threat he posed as a prince popular with the common people. A convocation of nobles and clergy, called by Aurangzeb in response to the perceived danger of insurrection in Delhi, declared him a threat to the public peace and an apostate from Islam.[He was assassinated by four of Aurangzeb's henchmen in front of his terrified son on the night of 30 August 1659. After his death, he was beheaded, and his head was served to his father, Shah Jahan on a platter.
Aurangzaib examining Dara's head

Dara's syncretic approach to religion drew the ire of Ulema which was exploited by his brother Aurangzaib.

While it is certain that Indian history would have taken a different turn had Dara, who was in the middle of all literary, spiritual, and intellectual movements of his time, come into power instead of Aurangazeb, many people of the past shared the belief that the end of the Mughal empire in India came because of the curse of killing Dara Shikoh and the great Sufi sage and Persian poet Sarmad, whose disciple Dara Shikoh had become towards the end of his life. 

\Dara Shikoh's translation of the Upanishads into Persian was to play a very significant role in awakening the west to the wisdom of the Upanishads. Fourteen years after Dara Shikoh completed the translation, in 1671, Francis Bernier, a French traveler, took the translation to France. Interest in Indian philosophy was awakened in France.

Later Victor Cousin, a French Philosopher of high repute, stated in words of high admiration that Vedanta, the philosophy of the Upanishads, is the highest philosophy that mankind has ever produced. The Upanishads and their philosophy soon became very popular in the intellectual circles all over the west. 

German scholars like Friedrich Von Schelling (1775-1854), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and Paul Deussen (1854-1919) were fascinated by the Upanishads. Schelling's admiration for the 'Oupnekhats' led him to ask Max Mueller to translate them, for he ardently felt that the Upanishads deserved wide circulation in Germany and every member of the German intelligentsia need to know of them.

Schopenhauer was among the greatest admirers of the s in the west. His magnum opus The World as Will and Idea strongly reflects the powerful influence of the Upanishads on him. He felt that no other thought of humanity ever came near the Upanishads in the depth of their wisdom and in the service it can provide mankind. Speaking of the wisdom of the ancient sages of India as contained in the Upanishads, the German philosopher said that "it has been the solace of my life"

DARA for our times!

Dara meeting Hindu and Sikh holy men

Today the Hindu and Muslims have been radicalized to despise each other and spend billions amassing armies to annihilate their enemy population. Muslim wahhabi preachers call Hindu pagans and Neo-Hindu evangelists call Islam a destroyer of their civilization.
It didn't have to be this way if Dara's message had found a larger audience. We are still fighting Dara's fight with our eemis declaring Sufism to be apostacy!

It doesn't have to be this way now if we explore our respective faiths and acknowledge that we are all seekers.  Finding the unity of truth only weakens the one trademarking religion for divisions but it empowers true seekers.