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CULTURE OF PEACE
The Sufi Paradigm of Peace-Making
Mohammad Reza Rikhtehgaran
There are three stations of peace in Sufism and the traveller on the spiritual path enters one of these stations according to his spiritual state. Of course the dweller at a lower stage has no access to the upper stations, and due to differences in rank, a single criterion is not to be applied to the dwellers of each station.
These three stations consist of peace at the stage of Islam (submission, abandonment to the Divine will), peace at the stage of Iman (the Divine peace that enters the believer’s heart), and peace at the stage of Ihsan (the Sanctifying Virtue through which the sovereignty of evil comes to an end).
Peace at the stage of Islam pertains to the corporeal and social aspects of human beings, whereas at the stage of Iman it pertains to the heart and the microcosm, and finally at the stage of Ihsan peace pertains to the Spirit and to the macrocosm.
The word ‘peace’ comes from the Latin pax, which is derived from pak, meaning ‘fasten’. ‘Fasten’ itself goes back ultimately to the Germanic fastuz, which denotes ‘firm’ and from which came the English ‘fast’, signifying ‘standing firm, firmly fixed, not easily moved’. In Latin stabilis is used to express ‘standing firm’. So, as its root suggests, ‘fasten’ once meant ‘to establish’. The notion of ‘fastening’ which underlies ‘peace’ is extended to the notions of ‘stable’ and ‘stability’ which are derived from the same Latin root: stabilis. Therefore peace means achieving a stable condition in which there are no elements causing instability.
Political peace is related to social stability. When a society reaches stability, it becomes fast and firm, free from violence and disharmony. In the religious context, however, peace signifies firmness in spiritual status and stability in the Right Path (magham). In Sufi terminology, maqham (spiritual station) denotes the inner permanent realization of a spiritual status.
A wayfarer reaches a certain station only when he is through with his spiritual journey on the path of talveen (a stage of capriciousness and constant shifting of states). Stations are innumerable and a wayfarer has to tread further towards higher stations closer to the ultimate goal beyond which there is no path. Such a traveller will not revert to former states in which confusions and disturbances are abundant.
Once fast and firm in a higher spiritual station, the wayfarer attains freedom from the harm and evils of the lower stations. Freedom is the essence of peace. That is why the German word for peace, friede, means the free, das Frye, and fry means preserved from harm and danger, preserved from something, safeguarded. To free really means to spare. The sparing itself consists not only in the fact that we do not harm the one whom we spare. Real sparing is something positive and takes place when we leave something beforehand in its own nature, when we return it specifically to its being, when we free it in the real sense of the word into a preserve of peace. To dwell, to be set at peace, means to remain at peace within the free, the preserve, the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its nature. The fundamental character of dwelling is this sparing and preserving.
The Arabic words for peace are selm and salam, both of which signify a positive connotation. Selm and salam are something to be realized inwardly. It is noteworthy that the Arabic word salam has been in general use as a greeting or salutation since the time of the Koran. One of its oldest chapters speaks of the descent of the Koran on ‘the Night of Power’ and concludes that ‘it is peace until the rising of the dawn’ (97:5). God calls men to the ‘abode of peace (dar-us-salam), both in this life and in the next, (10:26). In the Holy Koran we read:
This verse clearly indicates that peace is reserved for true believers, precluding ordinary people. Furthermore, we can infer that God’s rules and instructions are feasible and practical. In other words, ‘on no soul doth God place a burden greater than it can bear’ (Holy Koran, 2:286). So peace and concordance, which culminate in physical and spiritual well-being, are accessible and possible to attain. The next implication of the verse is that God’s command includes all believers, and thus within this category no soul shall be excluded from entering the peace. Another implication, of great importance, is the Koran’s interpretation of the path alternative to the peace, i.e., anyone who does not enter the station of peace shall inevitably follow the Satanic path. Therefore, peace is to prevent the onslaught of the army of the Left Dimension of human existence, turning the face of the heart to the Right Dimension, the right path: righteousness.
According to the Sufis, the way to peace, or the path of righteousness, is an approach to the realm of the heart, cordiality, concordance: literally, a coming together of the hearts as one.
On the other hand, the Arabic word for heart is qalb. The root from which this word is derived has the sense of turning, revolving and inverting. The heart is called qalb because it has two faces, one turning towards spirituality and the other towards materiality. Thus, the human heart is constantly turning or vacillating between the two opposing poles.
Furthermore, heart is the realm of iman, achieved when the spiritual tie between the wayfarer and the guide is fastened. This stage is referred to in the Holy Koran as the Divine Peace (sakeenah), which dwells in a sanctuary or in the heart. The word sakeenah comes from the root sakana, comprising both ‘immobility’ (sokun) and ‘habitation’. It is analogous to the Hebrew shakhinah, The Divine Glory which dwells in the Ark of Alliance. In the Holy Koran we read: ‘. . . It is He who sendeth down Divine Peace into the hearts of true believers. . . .’
Those whose hearts are enlightened by the Divine Peace are but a single soul. Their physical manifestations may seem diverse but in their origin they are united. This multitude of manifestations may be compared to the innumerable rays that different surfaces receive from a single source, i.e. the sun.
In each of these three stations, peace has its due manifestation: first, in the realm of exterior and social practice; and second, in the realm of interior and spiritual stations in which the wayfarer dwells.
Regarding the exterior and social aspects of peace, we read in the Holy Koarn:
According to the above verses the dwellers of the first stage have to ‘restrain their anger’. Obviously in this station we are dealing with a social problem the solution of which is clear: if it happens that somebody utters blasphemy, the believer should pass over it peacefully and pay no heed to it. If his anger bursts into flames, he should keep himself away from violence, which is a kind of madness. He should suppress his anger and calm it down with the water of patience.
Anger is a natural psychological reaction in a social situation. One may therefore not object if a person feels insulted, but in spite of his wounded feelings he is expected to restrain his anger and behave peacefully. This is the duty of the dwellers of the first stage, who form the majority, and such rules are within their own power.
Forgiveness is a more dignified state in which the wayfarer resides beyond the realm of anger and hatred. He does not think of revenge and will not become violent, for he understands the ignorance behind all hostile acts. So he forgives passionately.
A wayfarer at the stage of iman (that is the second stage) cannot and shall not feel hatred. He is dwelling in a higher spiritual position, therefore reacting in the manner of an inferior stage would not be merely a fault but rather a sin. At this stage the wayfarer should try to forgive, as far as he can, for the Beloved loves forgiveness; besides, he himself expects forgiveness from the Beloved. Moreover, the believer should endeavour to attain such a station that he may regard the offences of both his enemy and friend as something coming from God for his own training, and may find that ‘there is no power and no strength save in God’ within his own being. He should be benevolent even to those who hurt him.
At the highest stage of the Divine Peace, the wayfarer achieves self-annihilation (fana-fil-lah). Then if he attains subsistence in God (bagha-bil-lah), he will enter the station of ahsan. The word ihsan is derived from the root husn, meaning ‘goodness and beauty’. At this stage union with the Beloved and subsistence in God are achieved. This is the Divine Unity in which no duality exists. This is the vibrant peace of the essence, not the relative harmony among diverse substances. On this subject we have the following tradition (Hadith) from the Prophet: ‘Thou dost adore God as if tradition (Hadith) from the Prophet. Thou dost adore God as if thou saw Him; if thou dost not see Him, however, He sees thee.’ The qualifier as if signifies that the wayfarer at this stage cannot yet behold God, for he is still attached to materiality. Thus, in order to attain the Divine Vision (pertaining to the station of ihsan) he shall strive to cast off all selfishness and material attachments. It is advised by the masters that the wayfarer first undergo a phase of intense divine contemplation and meditation, and thence, hopefully, reach the station of Divine Vision unveiled.
One who attains to the stage of subsistence in God, himself becomes a manifestation of divine attributes. Having reached total extinction, he now achieves existence in the Reality of God. From then on it is not he who acts and talks, but God. At this station, the sovereignty of evil terminates — there is no conflict, no violence, no evil: nay, even no peace; for there is no one to be at peace. ‘Whose is the Kingdom at this time? God’s, the One, the Omnipotent’ (Holy Koran, 40:16). It means that in the impeccable and unlimited view of the spiritual master who sees the world as a unified Divine manifestation, all errors and corruptions revealed to limited sights shall disappear. The world is the shade of God, the Perfect, the Beautiful. The shade of the Beautiful must necessarily be beautiful — it cannot be otherwise. When a person reaches the station of ihsan in which he sees God with his inner insight or He is illumined and perfectly revealed, he himself is the owner of the virtue and the beauty. He beholds The One, who is the possessor of Absolute Virtue and Beauty. ‘God is beautiful and loves beauty’. In fact, it is His virtue and beauty that influences the seer.
The human being by his nature is a seeker of beauty and virtue. But in what do beauty and virtue culminate? They culminate in love. In other words, man is in search of beauty, which leads to love. This love is mutual. The almighty is the Lover and the Beloved. Man falls in love with the Almighty’s Beauty, but the Beloved falls in love with His lover, who is his own beautiful and virtuous Self. In different verses of the Koran, the divinity declares: ‘God loves the virtuous’.
A line of verse by Hafiz reads:
At the stage of ihsan the creation of evil is regarded as goodness. As a result, whatever is in the universe is good. One cannot consider anything evil. If there is any, it takes its origin from man’s ego. So the whole of creation is submitted to God’s order. Satan too is the manifestation of the attributes of His Misguidance, and the prophets are the manifestations of the attributes of His Guidance. Satan spins the veil, and he veils what should be under the veil. So, he serves the very same threshold. The dweller of the station of ihsan beholds Satan and the evil-doer as necessary beings. The Absolute Benevolent emanates only blessing.
Peace at this stage culminates in the solhi-kull (the Universal Peace). At this stage the Truth manifests itself and this is only possible after one has attained complete self-annihilation. Thus the hardness is melted, the limitations are removed, and the soul is liberated from its constrictions. Now the microcosm becomes the macrocosm, and the interior peace becomes Universal. The Dark Time will end and the morn of Truth will dawn.
According to the Sufis, tyranny, mischief, chaos and disorder are not enduring and come to an end in the long run. So, one should avail of every opportunity to achieve and maintain peace. One should not, due to the overwhelming disorder and injustice in the world, become so hopeless as to refrain from making efforts to achieve peace.
The way to the Universal Peace is from the microcosm to the macrocosm, and not vice- versa. Peace is realized first in the microcosm and only then in the macrocosm. Furthermore, the Universal Peace is achievable in the outer world, and it has been promised in the Sacred Scriptures. In the Sacred Scriptures, the Awaited Universal Peace-Maker who will eventually come and establish Universal Peace throughout the world is referred to by different names but possesses the same characteristics. Universal Peace is a station in which the spiritual traveller lives amongst people only bodily, while keeping his heart aloof from them. At this stage, the attachment of one’s heart is turned towards the non-material world. Thus, having one’s hands busy with work (for example, to keep oneself busy with a profession, trade or craft, occupying oneself with achieving and maintaining peace in its political sense), while having one’s heart with the Beloved (to melt the hardness and to liberate the soul from its constriction). That’s the only way to the Universal Peace.
Political peace is institutional, whereas spiritual peace is existential (pertaining to the existentiality of human beings). The former is something to be established by social institutions; but the latter is founded upon the soul’s ability to be, and consequently it is something to be realized inwardly. An institution is ‘an interrelated system of social roles and norms organized about the satisfaction of an important social need or function’. Therefore institutional peace pertains only to the social aspects of the human being. It signifies the station in which one associates with people. Spiritual peace, however, indicates the station in which the traveller on the spiritual path, as he associates himself with people, keeps his heart aloof from them. He is just among others and not with them. Actually, the face of his heart has been turned from the world of materiality to the world of spirituality. Etymologically, ‘institution’ denotes ‘standing in’, while ‘existence’ means ‘standing out’. The way to spiritual peace and salvation, and eventually to Universal Peace, lies in turning away from the IN and turning towards the EX. Salvation lies in being seized by Divine Ecstasy (to be out of one’s mind, dwelling in the grip of Divine attraction and mystic trance). To ‘stand out’ is to be ahead of oneself and to remain open to the openness of Being. ‘Man is and is man insofar as he, existing, stands exposed to the openness of Being, an openness which is Being itself. . . . World is the clearing of Being, wherein man stands out from his thrown existence. "Being-in-the-world" describes the essence of existence in relation to the cleared dimension out of which the "ex" of existence essentially arises.’
In Saadi’s words:
Being seized by Divine attraction, the wayfarer is oriented to the station of the heart and becomes receptive to spiritual truths. When the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) is asked, ‘What is the sign of the openness of the heart?’ He replies: ‘Returning to the Hereafter, to the abode of immortality, and turning one’s back to the abode of deception and to prepare oneself for death before it comes down to him.’ On another occasion he said: ‘Die before you die.’ This statement signifies the dying of the self, the shedding of all reprehensible characteristics and reviving the heart with praiseworthy attributes while maintaining one’s worldly life. At this station the wayfarer achieves a new relation with the world, as his previous relation undergoes transformation to realize this spiritual status. The word ‘relate’ is based on relatus, the past participle of the Latin referee, meaning ‘carry back, refer to’, but ‘latus’ is not the original past participle of the Latin ferre, meaning ‘carry’; it was drafted in from tollere, meaning ‘raise’, the source of the English ‘tolerate’. By the notion of ‘carrying’, we come to the Indo-European base bher, which already contained the two central meaning elements that have remained with its offspring ever since, ‘carry’ and ‘give birth’. This base, ultimately, stands as a root for a large number of English words among which the words ‘bear’ and ‘burden’ are the most important for the subject on hand. Having considered these etymological remarks we come to the following conclusion: To tolerate something is to ‘bear’ it.
At this station, the wayfarer is bestowed a new life. It is as if he’s ‘born’ again and would live a life which is good and pure. His heart would be unveiled and his sight would be sharp. In a nutshell, he would attain the openness of his heart.
Relation in its international context, too, has to deal with ‘tolerance’. Now, we may say that if international relations entail tolerating and bearing the burden of the other side, then the basis is correct. However, if the relationship between two nations entails imposing one’s burden upon the other, then the basis is malicious. In other words, if the relationship is based on appreciating what the nations have in common, and being in tolerant of their differences, then they enjoy a healthy relationship. Here, the relation itself has changed to toleration.
Tolerance may not be achieved unless the heart is opened and the mind is all-encompassing and in communion with all things. The result is perfect compassion. But the moment one loses this openness, one perceives differences and diversities as opposing forces against oneself and does not tolerate them.
Openness of the heart is the ground upon which all of these are founded. And now, I would like to conclude my talk and bless this gathering with the divine words:
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi