By Mass L. Usuf –
From the bleak prospect of a total nuclear engagement, to communities living as diverse minorities, the existential sentiment is the same. It is one of Furcht (fear).
Was man born to live only in fear or, in peace and happiness, also? Barring eschatology, living the present, now and here, though ephemeral, is man’s natural disposition. Then the time has come to stop doing one thing and start doing the other thing. Meaningfully, to cease dialoguing on which is the dominant and start discoursing on which are the commonalities. Yes, commonalities which bind religions together in the sphere of universalism; Contextually, between Buddhism and Islam.
The abundance of knowledge and the interrelated hermeneutics embedded within the wombs of the Islamic ‘Salam’ (peace) and the Dharmic ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) are repositories less explored. The underlying etymological harmony in both these terms is as if they have been deliberately designed by Providence to facilitate hope, joy and happiness in man. ‘Peace’ means the absence of violence and ‘non-violence’ means peace.
The disassociation of each of these terms from the position of dominant claim to the absolute truth should form the bedrock of an honest pursuit for peace. Seeking the commonalities between Buddhism and Islam, neither means evangelising nor debating but scholarship and appreciation. The objective undertaking would be to map the common denominators to yield the amazing result of promoting global peace.
‘Othering’ based on compartmentalised perceptual reflections not conforming to one’s individual or collective preferences is an epidemic level disease of the mind in this modern era. In Islam, equality of mankind is of primary essence. There is, therefore, no room in Islam for ‘othering’ since all are God’s creations and the children of one mother and one father. The Quran reminds:
“O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know (ta’arafu) one another. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous” (Chapter 49 Verse 13).
It is significant to note that this verse in the Quran is not addressing the Muslims. It is an address to the entire mankind. Life will be boring if all of us are of one colour and having the same feature. Diversity is an inherent longing in man inbuilt in him not to dominate his compatriot but to experience the variety of life. Pluralistic society feeds into this natural desire of man. The Quran emphasises that pluralism is to know each other (ta’arafu) with understanding, obligation, tolerance, accommodation etc.
A good example of othering that the Buddha himself experienced is in the Vasala Sutta. Going on his usual alms round, Gotama was nearing the residence of a Brahman. The brahman seeing the Blessed One some way off, said this: “Stay there, you shave ling, stay there you wretched monk, stay there you outcast.” Gotama asked the brahman: “Do you know who an outcast is?” and explained thus:
“Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahman. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahman.”
(Sutta Nipata – Sn 1.7: Vasala Sutta — Discourse on Outcasts)
The Good Against Evil
Religions have inspired man to stand against injustice and to exalt human dignity with his moral excellence. Therefore, all religions and philosophies have always taken the side of good against evil. The Quran says:
“Rectitude has become clear from error.”
(Chapter 2 Verse 256)
“… help one another unto righteousness and pious duty. Help not one another unto sin and transgression, .. ” (Chapter 5 Verse 2).
In the discourse with the Brahmans of Sala, Gotama in relation to righteous and unrighteous actions (kamma) said:
“Householders, it is by reason of conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma, by reason of unrighteous conduct, that beings here on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell.
It is by reason of conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, by reason of righteous conduct, that some beings here on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world.” (Majjhima Nikaya – MN 41- Saleyyaka Sutta).
Mara And Shaytan
Buddha had to battle against Mara (Sutta Nipata 425 – 449, Padhana Sutta: The Great Struggle) and Prophet Muhammed against the Shaytan see for example (Chapter 35 Verse 5). Both Mara (Pali) and Shaytan (Arabic) are depictions of the English term, ‘Satan’, ‘Devil’, the symbol of evil.
Instructing the monks on the manipulations of Mara through the senses of a person, Gotama said: “If a monk relishes them, welcomes them, and remains fastened to them, …. He has gone over to Mara’s camp; he has come under Mara’s power. The Evil One can do with him as he wills.” (Samyutta Nikaya SN 35, Marapasa Sutta: Mara’s Power).
Prophet Muhammed, the Messenger of Allah, (peace and blessings be upon him), said, “Verily, Satan flows through the human being like the flowing of blood.” (Sahiḥ Muslim No. 2174).
The reality is that we are living in the same planet and are interdependent for our existence. Man has to move away from the inherited obsession of absolute exclusivism vis a vis race and religion. He has to search within the notions of assertive exclusivism and timid inclusivism, the delicate balance which archetypes commonalities. Thus, build the edifice of peace, equality and happiness in the sense of a truly pluralistic society.
In addition, to building bridges of co-existence, there are other priorities which also would help man to come together. There are global issues which impact on every man irrespective of race or religion. An earthquake or a tsunami or a viral pandemic does not distinguish between a person’s race or religion when it strikes. Our human wisdom should therefore, direct us to work in cooperation on issues which is of concern to every human some of which are the environment, health, education, food security, human conflict, natural disasters etc.
The Four sublime states of mind (Brahma-viharas) taught by the Buddha viz. Kindness (metta), Sympathetic Joy (muditha), Compassion (karuna) and Equanimity (upekkha) plus the all-encompassing Rahma (mercy, kindness, justice and forbearance) that is Islam, taught by Prophet Muhammed, (peace and blessings be upon him), are formidable tools for the discerning to effectively harness towards promoting global peace.
Allah says in the al-Quran: We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures (Chapter 21 Verse 107). Similarly, the Bodhisattva is devoted to the cause of releasing all of humanity from the chains of false desire.
It will be extremely beneficial to explore in depth the commonalities between these two great teachings. Focus on the exhortations that direct towards peace for mankind. What else can replace the ‘Salaam’ of Islam and the ‘Ahimsa’ of the Dhamma? How much is mankind losing as each day passes without making use of these two great benefits for mankind which have been there for thousands of years?