By M. Jalaluddin Shamil
Scholarly debates about religion usually approach Islam by equating it with the word “intellectual tradition”, whereas other religious traditions of the east like Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism etc., are referred to as wisdom tradition by students and scholars interested in comparative religion. In the lines below, I would like to share with the readers some commonalities between the ways of Islam and some other great traditions.With my rudimentary understanding of things, I never claim the universality of my thoughts; that is the reason I usually call them scattered thoughts. Moreover, the lines below indicate not the thoughts of any preacher or scholar but solely my own understanding as a corollary of my own engagement with few different dimensions of human understanding. Furthermore, no word of mine should be taken as an explanation of the articles of Islamic faith, rather things may be taken as an effort to share the commonalities between Islam and other religions in philosophical dimension without discussing basic articles of Faith. In other words, my discussion is not linked with “Usulaat” but most probably linked with “Furuaat”.
“Many thoughts are not your thoughts, really, they arise in the collective mind. They are energy fields or energetic entities which you can almost think of as little bubbles floating around,” says a contemporary enlightened being and most influential writer on spirituality in North America, Eckhart Tolle. If one agrees with Tolle, then he/she may conclude that whatever an individual mostly say, writes or thinks, are in essence not one’s own thoughts; they are borrowed things either from others or simply from the collective mind, which is all around, all-pervading, all-encompassing and accessible to any receptive human being. Under such circumstances, claiming one’s thoughts to be universally acceptable or not derived from any other thoughts or ever-applicable seems a contradiction. This is the reason, many wonderful thoughts, once celebrated have been obsolete with the passage of time. That’s why earlier understanding about the universe, celebrated for centuries, were readily challenged by Copernicus and Galileo. Perhaps, this is the reason, scientific declarations are vulnerable to revision and alteration by successive discoveries and exposure to other dimensions of the “collective mind”. This collective mind – a shared heritage of human kind, and equally accessible to the subscriber of all religions – has been dubbed as “Cosmic Intelligence” by Yogic Wisdom, Universal Intelligence by Greek understanding, Aql Kulli by some Islamic philosophers and collective consciousness by some other traditions is a common sensibility – giver and helper for humanity to present diverse perspective of things as a manifestation of human endeavors to get to the vicinity of truth either in the realm of mundane or that of the spiritual. To put things more precisely, all traditions, philosophies, perspectives and thoughts are to a great extent derived from a specific shared collectivity – collective mind -having either base in common or details in common.
If such is the state of affairs, it is not unnatural for Islam to borrow concepts from other traditions, nor it is strange for other traditions to borrow thoughts from the contribution of Islam to human understanding. With this understanding, I wish to discuss the commonalities between Islam and other traditions, all are impressed to certain degrees from the collective mind. Little emphasis in this essay is on theological explanation (kalam) and more focus will be on Philosophical understanding of things. So, before the real topic, I will prefer to touch some philosophical dimension to set the stage for the topic in hand.
The collective mind, referred to above, radiates thoughts, to be received by and manifested in individual minds of human beings.The beings who receive the most genuine or accurate bit from that radiation are the sages, enlightened people, influential souls, Sadoos, mystics (Qutub, Abdaal, Aulia etc in general Muslim mysticism and Dai, Pir, Hujjat in early Ismaili philosophy) and other people with similar properties.Here discussion about the ways of attainment of spiritual enlightenment and attainment of secular knowledge may not be out of scope. Thus to say, attainment of spiritual enlightenment is the degree of receptivity to the genuine bits from the radiation from the collective mind/thought through the use of “intellect”, whereas, secular knowledge or knowledge of the mundane is exposure to the radiation through “reason”. In other words, receptivity through intellect is a spiritual realm and receptivity through reason is the secular. A brief description of difference between the scope of intellect and reason as noted by Reza Shah Kazmi in his book “Justice and Remembrance” can help in understanding the scope of intellect and reason. To my understanding, the activities of the reason, inspired by the outer five senses – Hawas e Khamsa – as a tool of its perception gives birth to knowledge humanity is accustomed to since antiquity. This knowledge creates knowledge in information technology, rocket science, pure science, philosophy, law, Medicine, Liberal Arts and humanities and so on and so forth. Whereas, intellect is linked with the supernatural, the all-pervading bubbles of thoughts all around. The intellect, not the reason is capable of extracting the most genuine and accurate bit from the radiation of bubbles. This connection with the bubbles around is accessible to every human being irrespective of religion. In Muslim understanding when this connection is established, things like ‘Ilham’, ‘Ilqa’, ‘Kashaf’ etc., will happen. This was the reason Plato claimed of receiving some sorts of “hints from unknown sources” in his celebrated book, the “Dialogue”. The Hindi wisdom tradition and Buddhist way of life practice yoga and meditation just to establish connection with the bubbles around-the shared heritage of humankind.
The concepts of Ustad and Shagird, Pir/Murshid and Murid, Master and disciple, Guru and Shishya in human civilization have been developed as a response to the human need of “deeper connection” through the faculty of intellect – as elaborated above.
According to a great Iranian intellectual of the 20th century Dr. Ali Shariati, human being is in “four imprisonments” – Chahar Zindaan. First being the imprisonment of Nature, second, the imprisonment of History, third the imprisonment of society and the last is the imprisonment of the self. Human satisfaction, success and happiness depends upon the degree of freeing itself from all these imprisonment. Liberation from the former three imprisonment is possible through knowledge – reason, whereas, liberation from the last imprisonment is not possible through knowledge, says Ali Shariati. The dilemma of humanity in contemporary age is that, it has been successful in liberating itself from all the three imprisonments, but liberation from the imprisonment of self has become even more difficult than previous centuries. It is perhaps, the want of liberation from the imprisonment of self that, human civilizations of different geographies have developed various ways, tools and methods as their helper. The commonalities in these ways, tools and methods between Islam and other religions is one of the aspect that our discussion will take place in the upcoming parts of this article.
To be continued….
(The writer is student counselor, majored in computer science and a PGD in applied psychology having interest in philosophy, comparative religion, mysticism and spirituality. Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).