5 piritual llumination nS ufism and E ast A sian Philosophies

H enry Bayman


The Black Pearl: Spiritual Iumination in Sufism and East Asian Philosophies © 2005 Henry Bayman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the publisher except in critical articles and reviews. Contact the publisher for information: Monkfish Book Publishing Company 27 Lamoree Rd. Rhinebeck, N.Y. 12572

Printed in the United States of America

Book and cover design by Georgia Dent

Seated Dervish

Riza Abbasi, Iranian, ca. 1565-1635

Iran, 1626

Ink on paper; 21.0 x 14.0 cm

Art and History Collection. Photograph courtesy of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: LTS1995.2.79.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bayman, Henry, 1951- The black pearl : spiritual ilumination in Sufism and East Asian philosophies / by Henry Bayman.-- 1st impression. p. cm. ISBN 0-9749359-5-6 1. Sufism. 2. God--Comparative studies. 3. Philosophy, Confu- cian. 4. Philosophy, Comparative. 5. Philosophy--East Asia. I. Title. BP189.B4 2005 297.4'1--dc22 2005010192 Bulk purchase discounts for educational or promotional pur- poses are available. Monkfish Book Publishing Company 27 Lamoree Road Rhinbeck, New York 12572

A seeker on the path visits a true Master and asks him about various spiritual methods. The Sage replies: “Do not fear— they all belong to us! Yet you are like one who earnestly tills the soil, waiting for a shoot to grow. Then you wait for the shoot to become a tree. Then the tree must blossom. Then only finally may it yield fruit. Whereas I (and here he reaches out his hand towards the seeker), I am offering you fresh fruit—all you have to do is eat!”

PREPACE s sasiiten slechevendeeden lesectietevier neice: xi INTRODUCTION si vsissisanthadias shethandencin uaasttecvansdntosns xvii Enlightenment And Gnosis, Buddhahood and Prophethood ..... cesses XXX OVER VIC Ws cars scvelsvagedansisiotsasbaxshaiolavesevetovetaonssuecedicacdatebaas XXXill 1. SECRETS OF THE TEA CEREMONY ....ccscseeseeees 1 The Téa CeremOnyiiicstcsiesissstieinatnsinctiesind tennis 5 Awakening to the One... csseessesenesseeseeeeeeneeeees 7 The Symbolism of the Tea Ceremony «0... eee 9 2: ACSUPUS. WORSHIP feiss cesiciiutiteit peseniiog. tienes 17 Ata cece sevesseecescosreeusssteesiessTectencstes teues coletiacedscreteeteisaneeee 17 Faithrin the: Master istics ened iiinatersetiarete 19 Patth tn the Prophet>.,<csscevicassevsccovodenssverionsveverngteredoeve 22 GO: assassins ietitiaesiteiesorn get hose oes 25 Order anid: Mat mony vscssssesesssssssscorsvsesestoeccraansvoreesseattc 28 The Importance of God for Human Beings ........... 29 Fm piri Cis i 22.8 see edecdeecdesedbsslecesdeecgidletgheidbeesintstibeletatea ds 30 Bo ON WAR Ge diee er teleat ten vy ateaatioliat leet tienes 32. Kendo and the “Sword of No-Abode” ........ccceeeee 35 War Against Oneself... ccccscesssesseseseesseseseseneens 37 4. UNITY AND ITS FAMILY ue. eeecseeesecsseeeeeeeeteeeeeees 40 UIE Y este scdea laces lvl secsstouseuesilesess davesutucdesrdbiedosvansvtesaescaties 40 Truth, Beauty, Goodness oo. eeeseeeseseeseeeeseeneeneees 43 PEACE: ear testevsterzecssuseticcsvxsctevirucasucevigesuav tren eeesteeeetee 47 Phar Onnynspatiss. peta iatataiendas gai pussseesevoesaunepeaepaansia 48 d EG) arrears See ee Cpe oe me Crear a 49 quality esstasscasceisaHesatssaitas idsedssssedeaestacdbasstocasseleasisantevas 51 Tim acy sicscssscsdscedecedscedecedsastesdbanstesshoscsascboscvesoyeusvesbocvdss 52 The Tree Metaphot’..c.cssccsesecssssssesoesssetessivsniovezsaniavetease 57 The Divine Helpet .... ccna 58 5. FROM NATURE TO GOD... cceseeseeetseteeteeneeeeeees 61


OG; LIFE VER EAT Matis Siontnintiont densi 68 The Metaphor of the Garden... 68 REINCAPMATON sctiesce ssid osesbeosnontieaepedtcssebaenceadendenassceoees 71

7.GOD IN EAST ASIAN CULTURE ssie:siiiascenesiserves 78 Tao, Tien, Ti, Kamo..ccccccssccsssessssescssesesssesessesees 78 Godinithe F Ching. cis icsicsieuidi nshiametel tei 79 The Yin and Yang of God wicca 82 Similarity and Incomparability ..... eee 84 God ‘and the Taoists i .sccscciccaciasmccronirarnavnaviciers 85 SHH tO en cess seeds evs dcos tessa losses snes dese sdenetuasarctazecceiontisessss 90 The Sun Behind the Sun... eeeeecseteteteteteeeenees 93 The Knowledge of No Knowledge... 93 Hollow Chestnut, Delicious Walnut... 95 The Bobbing Melon and the New Creation............ 97 The Homecoming iissiscciisiseclsssisvtlessisossscduorsesetededeanisbes 98 Nirvana in Brahman oo... ceesesesesesecessseseeeseseseseseaeaeaees 100 NO BOd Dut GOd si scsssssessscsetesssesssensnsedeioasscoaioredsanievetones 103 The Orange and the Sage... 105 None-self but One Self wo. eeeceesesescseeeeeteeeenees 106 The Mouse that Bit the Balloon wc ceeeeseteeretees 108

SE MPTINESS OR GOD? yas sctantidmniaaanes: ti Nirvana and Nihilist wo... eseseseseseecseseseeeeneeeeeees 111 Evolution of the Swayata CONCEP t wee cesses 114 The Problem with Emptiness occas 120 The Swnyata Shottiall.i.sccccctsssiecsesessssosanstevereasesieensoeas 122 Zeroing the Self. .scsscisccisseisssiesesoesssesesbsrdsanseandearsedeteseses 125 The Ethics Of Unity sc.ciscssscsseteasiccetsvatscntersssscsuessssestess 130 CHatity Stones isss.cus. sessdssesctsestaswnsesaseaosaivasannnantasssesnae cient 132

9. CONFUCIOUS: THE EXOTERIC DIMENSION.... 136 Confucian Divine Law... cseseseeceseseseseseeeseseeeecaees 136 Further Parallels..i...ciccndcacmndaundanadendats 139 Siticetity and Unity. ciesssupcevssvosicarionpsndeviedentaonsdecedays 147

LO, TINISRAS INET icabicis sstestertarvnivintuanytaviaiosinenteents 150

Two Different Visions ......cccccccccsscsssessessesscssessesssessens 153

The Emptiness of Emptiness... 155 Indra’s Holographic Net oo... esessesesseneeeeeeeeneees 157 The Room of Mirrors... essences 160 The Mysteries of Unification... eeeeeeeeeeenes 161 11. SELF-CULTIVATION IN SUFISM ....ceeesseeeeeeeeeees 164 The Two Restrictions... cccccsecsesessesesseseeeeeeeeeseees 164 The Difficulty of the Way occ cseeeeeeeeeneeneetees 166 The Man with Too Much Tea ween 166 The Cavity of the Heart on. cssscsssssssosssescsersavssessestaneten 167 The Heavenly Book seis sssscisccsscseselesasvonatsssucesvedeasseas 169 The Way of the Prophet... seseeseeeeeeeeeeneees 171 One’s own strength (Ji7R2) .oeseccssesessesesesseseeesteeeeeneee 172 Another’s strength (77082) cece eeseseeeeeeneaes 172 The Synthesis in Sufism oc eseeeseeeeeenereneetees 173 The Flying Prog c.cccscsecesssivesecssvoeseveseastsaniosenssnorsasorsovoses 175 Stages: of the Selfssisscicccisseisssisieseastacssssearassedesearasiessdeses 176 The Base Self saccistssccscssscsessihssisscutustusssavattessusttivavessestios 178 The Goose as Model for the Base Self... 179 Namik Kemal and the Cat... eeeeseessereesereeeneees 181 Nitinol and the Base Self wees eeeesseeseeeeeeneees 182 Sleep Less, Wake Up to God .inececcsseseseseseeeeeene 184 Sufism and Biotech uo... cscs sesesesesesesseeesseeeeneee 185 Wnvetlin essed iiase iis Meise see iesiecechgreeia teases 187 Quantum Sufism oe eececeesececeseeeeeeeeeeseeeseeeeeeeeeeeeeeees 189 Logman’s Last Lessoni ...ceccsesssseeeseneseseneneeeseeees 191 12“ E HE END OR THE JOURNEY, sa Gsiciustcuaeeas 194 The Peak of Unificatio94 i esesseeeeeseenseeeeeenes 194 Forinnal Ptaye sisssicstiscascssvssscscsstdsosssesnusvsssatuersuseaiesntsraastss 199 Chuang Tzu Visits a Sufi Physicist ..0...ceeeeeeee 200 CONCEUSION iit ates asatinien pets aninticaateteass 204 APPENDIX (FORMAL: PRAYER) 9.tiucitensunensenens 208 CSIOSSAR caliente cedeateninmey acu ken ator onioe 217


Without our searching, You gave us this search. —Rumi

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. —Lao Tzu

In my younger days, I devoted much time to the study of East- ern philosophies—Yoga, Zen, Taoism, Buddhism. Each was an eye-opener. I learned many things from the priceless wisdom that the sages of the East had accumulated down the centuries. I can say that each of these religions/philosophies represented a stepping stone along the path I traveled, and I am forever indebted to them for providing me with an understanding of what religion and philosophy are all about.

I was not originally interested in religion very much, but found my way to it through philosophy (and to philosophy, in turn, through science). Once, when I was young, a friend asked: “What is philosophy?” I replied: “In my view, philosophy is to harvest good results from whatever happens to you, good or bad.” I probably had Epictetus and the Stoics in the back of my mind when I said that. In this pragmatic approach—which I readily admit may not be shared by many philosophers—philos- ophy is something by which we improve ourselves. It was East- ern thought, which is philosophy on one face and religion on the other, that led me on to religion.

I started with Zen, which seemed closest to our secular world view. I remember that the earliest books I read on the sub-

ject were The Way of Zen by Alan Watts and Zen Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys. This led on to a study of Yoga (especially Hatha Yoga which is most practical), Buddhism, and Taoism.

Then I met the incomparable Sufi saint, Ahmet Kayhan. Every ideal, whether human or superhuman, I found embodied in him. But without the infrastructure provided by Eastern thought to appreciate what I was facing, I should never have rec- ognized the Master for what he was, what he represented. That background alerted me to the mystical dimension present within Islam: its esoteric aspect, its spiritual core. Before, I had shared the widespread misconception that Islam is a solely exoteric reli- gion based on beliefs, laws and external observances, with little regard to inner experience. Also, the appreciation that a sage is a person of great accomplishment and thus worthy of respect proved instrumental in approaching the Sufi masters with the proper courtesy.

I believe that Islamic Sufism has much in common with Buddhism, with Taoism, with Zen, and yes, even with Confu- cianism. At the same time, however, Sufism differs in various respects from each of these paths, to a degree that it becomes worthwhile to write a book about the subject.

At the center of the discussion is Absolute Reality: God, the Tao, Buddha-nature, the One (a/-Abad). Branching off from this ate: exoteric Confucianism, which deals with morality; esoteric Taoism and Buddhism, and their combined form Zen, which deal with wisdom and mysticism; plus other traditions which are less widespread but nevertheless represent important aspects of Eastern thought.


Rumi, the great mystical poet, once told the following Sufi story:

A Greek, an Arab, a Turk and a Persian once came together, and when they were hungry they pooled their money to buy something to eat. At that point a difficulty arose, because the Greek wanted to buy stafil, the Arab wanted to buy inab, the Persian wanted angur while the Turk wanted uzum. They finally began to quarrel, and at that moment a sage passing by interrupted them. “Tell me what you want,” he said, and taking the money from them, soon came back with some grapes. They were amazed to see that they all had wanted the same thing.

Likewise, it appears that various traditions in the east and west have used, not merely different words, but also different concepts, in pointing to the same reality—illustrated by another famous Rumi story, “the elephant in the dark.” Everybody has got hold of one part the truth. Once this is grasped, it becomes easier to make sense of many issues.

I find it surprising that scarcely anything has been written about Sufism in relation to Eastern philosophy. Toshihiko Izutsu’s Sufism and Taoism (1967) is the one notable exception that comes to mind.! Many yeats ago, I ran across the book in an Istanbul bookshop. It was the original edition published at Keio University. I could not purchase it at that time, however, and when I came to read it years later, it was a copy published by the University of California. We shall always be grateful to Izutsu for having initiated a new field of study, and his influence will be seen in various places of the present work.

But of course, Izutsu confined himself to a comparison between Sufism and Taoism (more specifically, comparing the great Sufi sage Ibn Arabi with Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu), not

1. Sachiko Murata’s The Tao of Islam (1992) and Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light (2000) are two other exceptional studies.


East Asian thought in general. Furthermore, being an outstand- ing scholar, he was writing more for an academic audience.

This present work both is, and is not, a comparative study. Lest I be accused of academic pretensions, let me say at once that this is not a study of Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, or Confucian- ism. It is a study of Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, and Confucianism as I have understood them to be. \ hope my readers will forgive me if they come across an occasional misunderstanding on my part. Similarly, it is not a study of Sufism in the academic sense, but of Sufism as I have seen, heard, and learned it from my Master and my own studies, to the extent of my acumen. All I can lay claim to is being a student of Sufism.

Co CGC &

The juggernaut of modernization has rolled over every deli- cate flower of the East, until today we are faced with their immi- nent extinction. Attachment to the secular world, to material goods and values, has erased the sacred almost completely from our lives. To my mind, this state of affairs is deplorable. Our material wealth should cease to be a curse, a devil’s trade-in, and become the springboard for doing more important things with our lives—such as perfecting ourselves, becoming what we already have the potential to be.

The world’s religions are, to me, a vast jigsaw puzzle, and even if I haven’t been able to advance far, it has given me great pleasure to contemplate how the pieces fit together.

Before us is a bouquet of flowers. And like a honey bee, we shall wend our way from lotus blossom to cherry blossom, guided by the evocative subtlety of the fragrances.



In this book I have followed most of the conventions set forth in an earlier book, The Station of No Station (North Atlantic 2001). To summarize briefly, while Ahmet Kayhan called his teaching “Islam” and I call it “Sufism,” we both mean the same thing, ie., Islamic Sufism. By Islam he meant both the exoteric and the esoteric aspects, thus using the term in a sense which many people are unaccustomed to. His use is the correct one, I believe, but then we come up against a problem of understand- ing. I have used the term Sufism because Eastern thought, with the exception of Confucian ethics, deals mainly with esoteric matters. But Islam is generally perceived to be an exoteric reli- gion, and its esoteric or contemplative aspect is commonly denoted by the word “Sufism.”

The gender problem is endemic to the English language. When I call God “He,” this is only intended to point to God in the third-person singular. It does not mean that God, who is beyond everything and also beyond gender, is a male. Similarly when speaking of humans: unless a person is a male, or mascu- linity is explicitly indicated, “he” also implies “she.”

I myself have translated the Turkish pieces. The translations have been done freely, with clarity foremost on my mind and aiming at accuracy only in bringing out crucial points. In translit- erating the names of the ancient Chinese sages, I have mostly adhered to the Wade-Giles system rather than Pinyin as a per- sonal preference.

Extensive use has been made of the secondary literature. I have used more sources than are indicated in the footnotes. An attempt has been made to keep them to a minimum. In speak- ing of Sufism I use fewer footnotes, as I am writing directly from memory or from “field notes” taken during training. When I


relate a Sufi story, it is typeset differently in order to indicate its “trademark.”

My gratitude and thanks to Tim Thurston and Peter Mur- phy, who have contributed to making this book what it is.

To err is human, and there will be errors in this book. For these, I apologize in advance.

Henry Bayman (



God is beautiful, He loves beauty, God is generous, He loves generosity; God is pure, He loves purity.

—The Prophet

Sufism is the way of inner truth and inner purity, of sincerity, love, and compassion. It counsels selflessness and desirelessness, benevolence and forbearance. It is pluralistic, democratic, and tolerant. Its beliefs are simple, practical, and direct. It teaches faith in One God, ethical conduct, and realization of the Abso- lute through charity, good deeds, and straightforward practices (such as Formal Prayer and Fasting).

The parallels between Sufism and Eastern philosophies are deep and many-faceted. Below are some principles shared by Sufism and Eastern thought alike:

The original nature of man is good.

The clearest expression of this widespread Eastern percep- tion is found in Mencius: “Human beings are inherently good.” In the Great Commentary on the Book of Changes, it is stated that the Tao “is is the essence.” The essence is that which all things are endowed with at their origin, and Richard Wilhelm observes that this was probably the passage on which Mencius based his doctrine.? Lao Tzu agrees that “the original nature of man is goodness.” Even Hsiin Tzu, the one notable exception to

2. Mencius, 6A:6.

this approach, merely claimed that human beings were inclined to evil,’ and believed they could become good through education.

Sufism, too, embraces the concept of original innocence and refuses that of original sin. The Prophet said: “Every child is born according to his true nature (fra, bsing)...just as animals produce their young with their limbs perfect.” A literal transla- tion of verse 30:30 (Koran) reads, “God’s innate nature with which He has ‘natured’ humankind.” The natural disposition of human beings, in other words, is perfect. Likewise, the Chinese word /sing (essence, nature) is also translated as “human nature,” indicating that fra and hsing are one.

Look at a baby. How beautiful it is, how pure, how innocent! How can anyone even imagine that such a wonderful creature, so full of joy and so much in need of loving care, could have any- thing to do with evil? Everyone remembers from their early childhood how clear and untainted the world appeared before we all got sucked into its mire. Little children are already pure. Neither is the world itself bad, but it is rather tainted good or bad by the actions of human beings.

Spiritual self-cultivation is essential.

If this is the case, to what does the world owe its less-than- perfect state? According to Mencius, “the true character of man is good; however, the evil mind arises by the temptation of mate- rial desires. Therefore, man should cultivate his mind himself

3. Ta Chuan (The Great Treatise), 1.5.2, in The I Ching or Book of Changes, tr. Richard Wilhelm/Cary F. Baynes, Bollingen Series 19, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1950], p. 298 and zbid, n3.

4. Laurence G. Thompson, Chinese Religion: An Introduction, qth ed., Bel- mont, CA: Wadsworth, 1989 [1979], p. 16.

5. Bukhari, Book 77 (Qadat):597; Muslim, Book 33 (Qadar):6423. The remainder of the saying states that a child grows up to become what it is, and the follower of another religion, according to the way its par- ents raise it.

and exhibit his own true character.” Chuang Tzu, Wang Pi, and many other Eastern philosophers called for a “return to the true and natural character of man.” As the Great Learning puts it, “Prom the king down to the common people, all must regard the cultivation of the self as the most essential thing,”

The Prophet said, “Begin with your own self.” According to Sufism, the original pearl, the pure nature, becomes encrusted with impurities in the course of time. Spiritual cultivation of the self means that the pearl should be cleansed of these barnacles and restored to its original state. The main factor responsible for this degeneration, says Sufism, is “the self that commands to evil” (nafs al-ammara bis-sui, 12:53), or “Base Self” for short. As the Prophet explained, “Your worst enemy is the self between your two sides.” This is the source of selfishness, egotism, and impure desires. Hence it must be tamed, subdued, brought to a quiescent state, so that further spiritual progress may become possible. This need for quiescence is also recognized by the Tao- ists, and has been called “Quietism” in the West, though the lat- ter term may be misleading. In Sufism, the purification of the self is a difficult and lengthy process requiring great effort; nev- ertheless, it is feasible. Seven basic stages can be distinguished in the development of the self, during which it rises from the Base Self at the beginning to the (wholly) Purified Self at the end. This is to climb the Cosmic Mountain in order to reach the Peak of Unification. There, looking at the horizons and in one’s self (41:53), one knows that all one’s troubles have been worth it. As the Sufi poet Niyazi Misri puts it:

Tf the emperor of the entire world heard of this He would give his life for just a drop of it.

Human beings are the acme of creation.

The ancient Chinese recognized three realms: Heaven, Earth, and Man. (The Koran often speaks of the heavens and the earth—a plurality of heavens is also recognized in the I Ching.) In his ideal form, as a sage, Man would form a bridge between Heaven and Earth, and all beings would coexist in har- mony. According to Tsung-mi, fifth patriarch of Huayen (Kegon) Buddhism, the human being is the highest of all exist- ences.

The Yellow Emperor said: “Covered by Heaven and sup- ported by Earth, all creation together in its most complete perfection is planned for the greatest achievement: Man.”°

Likewise, Islam regards the human being as “the most honorable of creatures” (ashraf al-mahbluga). God states in the Book that He has “honored” human beings (17:70): “Surely We created man in the best of statures” (95:4). In Sufism, Man is seen as the recipi- ent of all the Divine Names and Attributes—he is a miniature version of the cosmos. Sheikh Galib, a leading Turkish Sufi poet, wrote the following couplet:

Regard yourself with favor, for you are the elect of the universe You are a human being—the pupil c of the universe’s eye.

But why is man so dear? Because, according to Galib, the uni- verse is not large enough to encompass the full potentials of the

6. Iza Veith (tr.), The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen), Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1973 [1949], p. 213.

7. Or apple.


human spirit. Rarely if ever has this notion been better expressed in all the poetry of the world:

The candle of the soul has such a flame As will not fit under the bell jar of the heavens

Again, here is Rumi:

The attribute of man is to manifest God's signs. Whatever is seen in man is the reflection of God, Even as the reflection of the moon in water.®

Or, coming closer to the fount of Revelation, consider this poem by Ali, the Fourth Caliph:

Your pain is from you, but you see not Your cure is in you, but you know not

In you has been placed the whole cosmos Yet you still deem yourself something small

In Sufic cosmology, God formed all things out of His attributes, which are referred to by His names. Everything is an “interfer- ence pattern” of some, even many, such names. But it is the human being who is God’s masterpiece, because he brings together all names and attributes within himself. As the Neo- Confucianist Chou Tun-yi expressed it, “It is man alone, how- ever, who receives [the yw and_yang| in their highest excellence and hence is the most intelligent [of all beings].”

8. Rumi, Mathnami, mathnv10.html, accessed June 18, 2004.



Tolerance is an essential characteristic of Eastern philoso- phies. Prince Shotoku, who introduced Buddhism to Japan, wrote in the tenth article of his constitution: “Forget resentment, forsake anger, do not become angry just because someone opposes you...if you are not quite a saint, neither is he quite an idiot.” In a similar vein, the Turkish Sufi poet Yunus Emre sang: “Because of the Creator, be tolerant towards what is created.” The Sufi saint Ahmet Kayhan taught that even a fly or a danger- ous animal should be rescued if it is in distress. The following poem by a Turkish Sufi, Father Hulusi,’ summarizes the ethics of Islamic spirituality in a nutshell:

Don't think the world is your servant or your slave For the sake of the Real, be the servant and slave of the world

Don't be vain or deluded by the caprices of the self Let feet step on your chest, be the path for every foot

For the sake of God, respect everyone, love and be loved Don't be a thorn to every eye: be their hyacinth, their rose Serve each living thing without grudge or expectation

Be the feet and hands of the destitute and poor

Offend no one, nor be offended by them Be of smiling mien, sweet of tongue, the honey of every mouth

Even if you wreck the Kaaba by siding with your self Don't give offense, don't break a heart, though you be wise or mad

Be lovingkind like the sun, modest like earth

9. Mevlevi dervish from Konya (1752-1811).

Like water be generous, full of compassion

A dervish should be on the way, has no reputation to bolster Forgive the guilty their crimes, be tolerant

Empty your being that you may achieve Nothingness Speak your words truthfully, become the tongue of Hulusi.

Filial piety.

The deep reverence felt by Eastern people for their ances- tors is well-known. Confucius “maintained that the best way to honor our ancestors is to honor and respect our parents, and by extension, our other blood relatives.”!9 Reverence and concern for them, and fulfilling their aims while they are still alive, are better than offering sacrifice to their spirits once they are dead. The Zen priest Bankei taught that benevolence to parents was of the utmost importance: “You should respect them. This is filial piety. To follow the way of filial piety is Buddhahood. Filial piety and Buddhahood are not different.’ In other words, charity begins in the home; a person disrespectful of one’s parents has no chance of becoming a sage, a perfect human being,

This sentiment is echoed by Sufism. In the Koran, the Heavenly Classic, it is written:

Be kind to parents

Whether one or both of them attains old age with you, Say not a word of contempt to them, nor chide them, But speak unto them words respectful,

And lower to them the wing of humbleness

10. Laurence C. Wu, Fundamentals of Chinese Philosophy, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986, p. 22.


Out of mercy and say, “My Lord, have mercy upon them, Even as they cherished me in childhood.” (17:23-24)

We have enjoined on a human being

Kindness to his/her parents; his mother bore him painfully, And in pain she gave birth to him.

His bearing and his weaning are thirty months.

At length, he is fully grown, and reaches forty years. (46:15)

His mother bore him In weakness upon weakness... Be grateful to Me, and to your parents. (31:14)

The Prophet’s words: “Heaven lies under the feet of mothers,” underlines the fact that only by pleasing one’s mother can one enter the Pure Land. Needless to say, this does not exclude the father. According to Sufi lore, although the prophet Abraham disapproved of his father’s idolatry, he would carry him on his shoulders when his father’s worship was done and they were returning home. Care and concern should be extended to rela- tives as well: “God enjoins justice, good works, and looking after needy relatives.” (16:90)

Sagehood or buddhahood.

“The sage,” said Menctus, “is the acme of human relations” (Mencius, 44:2), which means, literally, that the sage is the morally perfect human being. This is echoed in the Sufic concept of the “Perfect Human” (éasan al-kaamil, called jen ren in Chinese). But moral perfection is a step to something higher. Mencius contin- ues: “He who has completely developed his mind, knows his nature. He who knows his nature, knows Heaven.” (7A:1) Or, in the words of the Prophet, “He who knows his self knows his


Lord.” The result is Enlightenment, a state where, according to the Ch’an (Zen) masters, “there ceases to be distinction between the experiencer and the experienced?”!! between subject and object, which is Unity (wahdah) in Sufic terms.

According to Mencius (6B:2) as well as Sufism, all men can become sages. Every single human being has this potential, for this is the goal for which human beings were expressly designed. Not everyone will become a sage or a buddha, of course, but this has more to do with individual inclination and struggle than with innate capacity.


In Eastern thought, the identification of nature with the Absolute led to the appreciation that nature is beautiful and the world, a good place to live in. This is an optimistic view, also shared by Sufism. To paraphrase the Prophet, “If you know that the end of the world is tomorrow, do not hesitate to plant a tree today.” One should hope for the best and be constant in Right Action just as if life will go on as usual. “What’s the use” would be a gesture of hopelessness and despair. “Be hopeful, be brave,” the Master always advised. We have seen above that the original nature of human beings is regarded as good, which is itself an optimistic view.

Mo Tzu and his followers regarded the universe as wonder- fully good. It is, in their conception, ruled over by Shang Ti, the Heavenly Ancestor or Sovereign on High, a personal God who “loves men dearly... Heaven loves the whole world universally. Everything is prepared for the good of man.’!* According to the Koran, “God has created all things with the greatest good-

11. Recorded Sayings of Ancient Worthies, chtian 32, qaoted in Fung Yu-lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, Derk Bodde (ed.), New York: Macmillan Free Press, 1966 [1948], p. 262.


ness and beauty” (32:7). The Sufi Sheikh Geylani adds: “Men use expressions such as ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’ for things relative to their selves, and things that are disagreeable they call ‘evil’ or ‘ugly’ But for one who knows the Truth, there is no distinction whatever; all that is created is precious...It is for this reason that the one who has matured in his perception of reality does not see fault or flaws in creation.”!?

Calamities are part of life. There may come a point when even the most optimistic despair. Yet, if we persevere in patience, we will both see the end of it, and realize the fact that God transforms evil into good, just as He brings life out of death and causes death to emerge from life (3:27). To quote again from Ibrahim Hakki’s long poem:

Bad things to good, God modifies

Think not He does otherwise

Albyays watched on by the wise— What God will ordain, let us see Whatever He does, well does He

Since matters are in God’ hands, vain Is any confusion or pain He unfolds Wisdom divine What God will ordain, let us see Whatever He does, well does He

Do not say: “Why is this so?”

It is good that it is so

Look, see how the end will go What God will ordain, let us see Whatever He does, well does He

12. Quoted in Huston Smith, The Religions of Man, New York: Harper Perennial, 1958, p. 173. 13. Abdulqader Geylani, Treatise on Divine Aid (Risala al-Gawsiyya).


Just when your hopes are down to nil

Suddenly He parts a veil

He grants solace from every il What God will ordain, let us see Whatever He does, well does He!#

Good and evil, the Golden Rule, the Golden Mean.

The Taoists taught that “one must not perform evil, but do good,” a path which would finally result in one’s becoming a sage, a superhuman being, And Prince Shotokustated in his 17- article constitution: “Chastise that which is evil and encourage that which is good. This was the excellent rule of antiquity.” The same principle occurs in Islam as “enjoin the good and forbid the evil” (amr bil-maruf, nahy an al-munkar). (In a careful transla- tion, William Chittick renders good as “honor” and evil as “dis- honor,” which highlights the shame of doing evil.'>)

The Golden Rule: “Do as you would be done by,” is perhaps the most universal principle of ethics. It can be found in all reli- gions and amongst all peoples. Here is how Confucius expressed it: “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.”!° And the Prophet Muhammad: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.”

The Golden Mean (a.k.a. the Happy Medium): “Avoid excess,” has been favored by Taoist and Confucianist alike. Their motto is “Never too much,” reflecting the conviction that overdoing things may cause harm beyond repair, whereas it is frequently possible to increase what is insufficient. In Eastern philosophy,

14. Ibrahim Hakki of Erzurum, Tefvizname (“Put Your Trust in God”), stanzas 1, 7, 11, 16. I have tried to emulate the rhyme and meter of

the original. 15. William C. Chittick, Sufism:.A Short Introduction, Oxford: Oneworld, 2000, p. 55.

16. Analects, 15:24.


man and nature are not opposed to each other, but exist (or should exist) in harmony. In order to harmonize with nature and live in peace, the harmony of all beings is necessary, which leads to the idea of moderation.

In Sufism, moderation is likewise essential. “In prayer be neither loud nor hushed, but seek a middle course between.” (17:110) The Prophet himself always exercised and advised mod- eration: “Whoever goes to extremes, is ruined.” This applies to everything—even to worship, even to love. One should err nei- ther on the side of too much (#ra#), nor of too little (/ri/). The Koran praises “those who, when they spend, are neither wasteful nor miserly.” (25:67) The following verse surely has ecological import: “Hat, drink, but do not be wasteful; God does not love those who waste.” (7:31)

In charity, too, one should observe the median. “Give the relatives their right, and the needy, and the traveller, but do not squander...Do not keep your hand tied, nor stretch it out wide- spread, or you will become blameworthy and destitute.” (17:26, 29)

A tied hand means to be tight-fisted. A Turkish saying teases out the meaning of the verse. When one locks one’s hand into a fist, no water can enter it. On the other hand, if one stretches out an open palm, water cannot remain in one’s hand. But if one curves one’s fingers to form one’s palm into a cup, water can be held in it, both for one’s own use and for offering those in need. If one is a tightwad, one ceases to prosper and does not benefit society; if one gives everything away, there is nothing left to sup- port oneself and one’s own family. In either case, one becomes blameworthy and destitute. Again, moderation is counseled.

The Use of Edifying Stories.

Sometimes the stories of East Asia and Sufi teaching-stories are so similar that it is difficult to tell which belongs to which. The reader is invited to guess the sources of the following tales:

The Man Born Blind: There was a man born blind. He had never seen the sun and asked about it of people who could see. Someone told him, “the sun’s shape is like a brass tray.” The blind man struck the brass tray and heard its sound. Later when he heard the sound of a bell, he thought it was the sun. Again someone told him, “The sunlight is like that of a candle,” and the blind man felt the candle, and thought that was the sun’s shape. Later he felt a big key and thought it was a sun.

The sun is quite different from a bell or a key, but the blind man cannot tell their difference because he has never seen the sun. The Truth is harder to see than the sun, and when people do not know it they are exactly like the blind man. Even if you do your best to explain by analogies and examples, it still appears like the analogy of the brass tray and the candle. From what is said of the brass tray, one imagines a bell, and from what is said about a candle, one imagines a key. In this way, one gets ever further and fur- ther away from the truth. Those who speak about Truth sometimes give it a name according to what they happen to see, of imagine what it is like without seeing it. These are mistakes in the effort to understand Truth.

The Elephant in the Dark: Some Hindus had brought an ele- phant for show to a town that had never seen an elephant before. As it happened, however, they arrived at night, and had to put it in a huge barn where there was no light. The people, all agog with curiosity, took turns going in. But in the darkness, they had to get by with their sense of touch.


One of them happened to feel its trunk, and thought the animal was like a hose, a pipe. Another felt its ear, and thought the animal was fan-like. Another touched its back, and became convinced that it was like a saddle. Another grasped its leg, and thought of a pillar; still another felt the tusk, and thought of a rounded porcelain sword. Whereas if they had used a candle and all gone in together, they would have seen it for what it was.

Both stories, of course, are telling us about God, about Ulti- mate Reality, and our difficulty in comprehending Him. The first uses blindness as a metaphor for the human condition and the sun as a metaphor for God. The second uses darkness and the elephant, respectively, and it has also been retold as applying to blind men.

Only prior knowledge will help in discerning the sources of these tales: the first belongs to the Chinese poet Su Tung-po!’ and the second to the Sufi poet Rumi.'® But if this order had been reversed, would it have made much difference?

Enlightenment And Gnosis, Buddhahood and Prophethood

The term “enlightenment” (bodhi, satori, wu) is called, in Sufic technical terminology, “Gnosis” (marifa), “union, arrival, attain- ment” (wusla’) and “union, unity” (wahdah). Gnosis is “knowl- edge that illuminates,’ and its full name—God-knowledge (marifa Allah)—is indicative of this quality.

Enlightenment is an eminently acceptable term from the Sufic standpoint, because God is Light (a/-Nur). As the famous

17. Related in Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of China and India, New York: Ran- dom House, 1942, p. 1067. I have made some minor editorial changes and substituted Truth for Tao, a change suggested by Yutang himself.

18. Mathnai, U1, 1259-69.


Light Verse puts it, “God is the Light of the heavens and the earth...Light upon Light!” (24:35) Since the goal in Sufism is the Summit of Unification, where only God exists, it is clear that the climb to that peak entails increasing levels of enlightenment. And indeed, Sufis speak of the appearance of various “lights” (anwar) during the long ascent to the top. And Shihabuddin Suhrawardi used the term “sunrise, enlightenment” (éshraq) to describe the illumination that occurs when the Sun of the spiri- tual world is born in one’s Heart.

Here a short digression may serve to justify the translation of “prophet” as “buddha” or “bodhisattva.” “Prophet” is zabi in both the Semitic languages Hebrew and Arabic, and derives from nabiim or naba. “These terms come from a group of cog- nate words which have nothing to do with time [or prophesying the future], but rather with flowing and becoming bright.”!? In Arabic, naba means 1. news, message (whence “Messenger” or prophet) and 2. (sometimes rapid) elevation. Now all these con- cepts actually describe a spiritual Ascension (meera/), for one Ascends via a beam of white light that emanates from God, who is Light (24:35). (One becomes brighter as light flows out below.) It appears, then, that the original term sabi was much more expressive of the truth, and we would thus not be far wrong in linguistically equating “prophet” with buddha (enlightened, awakened”) or bodbisattva (“enlightened being’), perhaps also rescuing its primal sense in the process. Since “Buddha” means “awakened” or “enlightened,” in my opinion there is nothing wrong in calling the Prophet a Buddha (Muhammed Butsu, Ahmed-i Fo).

Co CGC &

19. Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977, pp. 299-300.


All these parallels suggest that East Asian philosophies /reli- gions and Sufism draw their inspiration from the same well- spring of Truth. It becomes worthwhile, therefore, to investigate whether Sufism may in fact represent their natural culmination. I believe this is an unexpected situation, and we shall be con- cerned to see how this initially counterintuitive conclusion may be justified.

To be sure, there have always been followers of the separate paths of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Yet the great majority of East Asians have always recognized that each of these have their respective merits, and have even embraced the “Three Teachings” as one (or Four or even Five Teachings, if you also count Shinto and Zen separately).

This, however, is easier said than done. For all these teach- ings contain points that are not easily harmonized, and some- times are even mutually contradictory. Here, Sufism can help show which parts in each fit together in what way, exactly. The result is a picture of breath-taking harmony, for it takes Absolute Reality (God) as its centerpiece, who is the source of all har- mony and purity. Harmony requires two things: consistency and comprehensiveness. For if two things are inconsistent, they can- not be in harmony with each other. And a harmony that is par- tial (harmonious in some respects and not so in others) is only a mixture of harmony and discord. Ideally, all parts of a teaching should be in consonance with one another. When all the ele- ments of a teaching are in “constructive interference” with each other, mutually supporting and completing other elements, then that teaching is truly harmonious. Sufism can show the way by lighting the path to the achievement of true harmony.

I have found that Sufism can also help to “fill in the blanks.” Take Zen, for instance. Most people agree, of course, that it is highly oblique, perhaps to an extent even incomprehensible.


When one looks at the sayings of Zen masters, one finds three categories: the first is quite normal, even ordinary, in accordance with everyday speech (at least in translation). Certainly the Zen masters were as entitled as anyone else to talk the talk of ordi- nary life; this does not necessarily mean that everything they uttered had to be profound, even when recorded. The second is suggestive, but only an enlightened person may understand what it suggests. The third expresses a deep and sublime truth, but even here the true meaning is not immediately apparent. What we can do is to use the insights of Sufism to discriminate between these categories, and to draw out the profound meaning

where this exists.2”


The plan of the book is as follows. Chapter 1 introduces our subject by treating a time-honored Japanese institution, the Tea Ceremony, from a Sufic point of view. Although the Tea Cere- mony is primarily a work of art, there is a symbolism hidden

20. To give some examples:

“T hold a sword with empty hands.” Here, “swor