Buddhist Exegesis on Sufi Rumi's Sufi Thought

Wong Weng Hon
MA in Buddhist Studies

Brief Introduction:

Sufi Rumi (1207-1273) is Persian Sufi Poet. Rumi's Sufi teaching
Does not differ from the Mahāyāna Buddhism. His Sufi Poems
mirror his right understanding and right thought of Islamic spirituality.
Sufism is the heart of Islam. Understanding Sufism, Buddhists will
gain a better and more profound interfaith understanding between
Buddhism and Sufism. Rumi said, "God is the ground as well the goal
of all existence."It was indeed well said. Comparatively, Emptiness
or Buddha-nature is the ground as well as the goal of all existence.
Understanding one's own religion does not suffice. We need to under-
standing the faiths of others to avoid misunderstanding, hostility and


Prophet Muhammad describes the illusion of the empirical world thus,"God exists and nothing else exists with Him."Such exposition does not differ from the Śākyamuni Buddha's tenet that the ultimate Truth is real and the conventional truth is unreal.

Sufi Rumi comments on the Word of Prophet Muhammad thus, "In reality, all created beings and all universes (different world systems) consist of non-existence that has the illusion of existence; the real existence is only the existence of God. "Thus we witness that the Sufi philosophy does not differ from Mahāyāna Buddhist worldview that all myriad things or beings are like dreams, magics, mirages, echoes, children of a barren woman and hairs of tortoise (Mahāyāna Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtras)

The most celebrated Sufi Supreme Master Ibn ‘Arabī who composed the highly celebrated work' Fusus al-Hikam(The Bezels of Wisdom) depicts the illusion of the empirical world thus,"The world is an illusion having no existence in itself. And this is the meaning of imagination."He adds further, "The Prophet said : Men are asleep and they will wake up when they die. Whatever man sees in his worldly life is like dream for a sleeper- a fancy requiring an interpretation." Thus, we witness that this Islamic teaching of Shahādah of multiplicity-Unity relationship is theosophically synonymous with Buddhist Theory of Two-fold Truth (Dvasatyavāda). The Buddhist Theory of Two-fold Truth states that the conventional truth concealed by the ultimate Truth is illusory and unreal. Only the ultimate Truth is the Absolute and Real.

After the demise of Ibn ‘Arabī, prominent Sufis who expounded Ibn ‘Arabī's highly celebrated Sufi doctrine of Unity of Existence (Waḥ̣dat al Wujūd) invigorated his Sufi doctrine with the doctrine of Unity of Perception (‘Waḥdat al-Shuhūd). Rumi was one of these great Sufi exponents of the teaching of Sufi Ibn ‘Arabī who defines as God as the Unity of Existence of contigent beings. The Unity of Existence is the ultimate Truth. The contigent beings or the phenomenal world are the conventional truth. Conventional truth is relative. Ultimate Truth is Absolute. Sufi doctrine states that God's existence is real whereas the existence of the world is imaginary (khayālī) and unreal (mawhūm). I regret to note that Islamic concept of Shahādah has been misinterpreted by the Muslims themselves.

Shahādah is generally interpreted by the Muslims thus: There is no god except Allah'. The correct interpretation is thus: Nothing is real except Allah'. It connotes that the multiplicity is unreal and the Unity is Real. Shahādah is not the sole teaching of Islam. Shahādah is promulagetd in Hindusim, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Neo-conducianism. Shahādah is the only Truth or Reality that regulates and sustains the entire cosmic mechanism. Shahādah is recited by the Muslims in their daily prayer as: lā ilāha illā Llah. It is recited by the Mahāyāna Buddhists in the Hṛdaya Sūtra thus : RūpaṃŚūnyatā Śūnyataiva rūpaṃ (Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form). These two different languages (Arab and Sanskrit) and paraphrase spoken by the Supreme Masters communicate the communal Truth of Wisdom pertaining the relationship between the multiplicity of the relative truth and the Unity of the ultimate Truth. Religious distinctions and misunderstanding causing enmities and bloodsheds are the consequence of ignorance of Ignorance (Pāl. : Avijjā; Arab: Jāhil).

Unity of Existence

Tathāgatas and Prophets and other supreme masters emerge in this world to awaken us from the slumber of ignorance that human beings and non-human beings do not live independently from one another. In reality, all human beings and non-human beings co-exist interdependently and interconnectedly in the universal Unity of Existence as systemic beings. In the Kor'an, the intrinsic inclusiveness of every person in the Unity of Existence is expounded thus by Prophet of Muhammad, "God is with you wherever you may be."(Qur'an 50:16). Buddhistly put, you never exist in your self (attā) but you always exist in your Non-self (Anattā). Anattā is the divine Attribute of God. Without realizing one's True Self, one never realizes one's Non-self. Likewise, without realizing one's ego, one will never realize one's God. Having negated God, one sees Anattā or God. God is the Truth of Anattā.

A human being of any faith can only rectify his or her imperfection through the knowledge of Anattā. What is other than self or ego is Anattā. What is other than self or ego is Buddha, Brahman or God. One can only perfect his or her character on condition that he or she has discerned the Truth of Anattā. Anatta is one's True Self designated as the Universal Self (Dharmadhātu). Whoever sees one's Dharmadhātu sees the Lord. Religion unravels to us that every human person is innately perfect. Even though one may not be interested in reaching human perfection, it is one's deontological duty to rectify oneself so that one's deontological ethics of duties and responsibilities are discharged accordingly in order to live or work harmoniously with others related to him or her. Proper discharge of duties and responsibilities avert the occurrence of systemic risks that may develop into a systemic crisis. The ongoing global financial crisis occurs because of the occurrence of epi systemic risks.

Parts and Unity

Systemic parts exist because of the existence of systemic unity of existence. Parts never exist if unity does not exist. Likewise, Monotheistically put, the world comprising the parts does not exist if God which is the Unity of Existence does not exist. Buddhistly put, cause and conditions which are parts exist because of Emptiness. Emptiness is the Unity of Existence. Thus, it follows that Emptiness is the Attribute of God that has been defined by Sufis as the Unity of Existence (Tawḥīd). The esoteric Truth of Monotheism and Buddhism is thereby theosophically identical and is ontologically reconciled. The doctrinal emphasis that I'm driving home is that a communal Truth of Wisdom exists among all world's great religions. Religious discrimination and enmity are products of ignorance or false imagination.


In Unity, God or Buddha is hidden and transcendent; in multiplicity, God or Buddha is immanent and pervasive. Monotheistically put, God exists everywhere; everything is God. Buddhistly put, Buddha-nature exists in every sentient being; God or Buddha exists in two-fold aspect, namely in the multiplicity of the conventional reality and in the Unity of ultimate Reality. The relationship between the world and God or Buddha is actually the co-rrelationship between the conventional truth and the ultimate Truth. In other words, Man is never intrinsically separable from the God or Buddha. Sufi's searched for God in Man's inner Heart does not differ from Buddhists' noble search for refuge in Man's Buddha-nature. Inner Heart or Buddha-nature is Anattā or Śūnyatā. Sufi teaching reveals that if we are genuine Hindus, Taoists, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Muslims, Peoples of all religions and diverge backgrounds can live in peace and harmony.

Religion awakens us to the Reality that multiple forms of the multiplicity are the building blocks of Unity of life. Multiplicity is relative and Unity is Absolute. Peoples of all religions worship the communal Absolute which creates accomplishments, satisfactions, concrescence and creative advance of the world. Rumi in his Sufi poetry, conveyed the crux of all religions to us thus:

Know well that belief and unbelief are like the white and yellowof an egg. There is a membrane that separates them. With God's  grace and favour, when the mother hen takes it under her wings,both belief and unbelief vanish and the chick of unity cracks theegg and emerges.

He explained further, "Know this well that the Lover of God ( Knower of Truth) cannot be a Muslim, in the sect of Love, there is neither faith nor unbelief. In the Lover, there is no body, no mind, no soul, no heart; if a person is not like this, then that person is not a Lover of God.Buddhistly perceived, the Lover of God is the Knower of Truth and the negation of everything is Emptiness (Śūnyatā) which does not connote nothingness or nihilism. Don't you realize Sufi Rumi was expounding the quintessence of the Heart Sutra through his poetry on the Love of God or Truth? Through the spiritual Eye or Insight (‘aynal-baṣīrah) of Rumi, I do not discern any doctrinal distinction between Buddhism and Sufism.

Editor's Note:
One flower is one world and one leave is one Tathāgata. Every existence in this world is divine and sacred. All are equal before the Lord. Multiplicity is food for Unity and Unity is food for the Unity. We are no bodies in the multiplicity and yet we are some bodies in the Unity


İnternational Rumi Mevlevi Ensemble

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