We hail Shaikhul Alam as our patron saint, as Alamdar but there are huge academic debates that have generated much heat and little light. There are some who contest the term Shaikhul Alam and favour Nund Rishi. There are others who spend much energy on proving Lalla’s Saivist or Islamic credentials. There is huge confusion on what is authentic text of our Sheikh. There are editions of Shaikh’s poetry that reflect compiler’s ideological orientation. There are debates that seem to be never ending because wrongly framed on Arabic/Persian/Sanskrit origin of Reshiyyat. Some have an agenda of projecting Lalla as the saint of Kashmir while for some it is debatable if she existed at all. There is much loose talk and conceptual confusion in the use of such terms as mysticism, Sufism and Reshiyyat in writings on Shaikhul Alam and his legacy or Kashmiri’s spiritual landscape. I propose to turn to scholars of perennialist school to clarify key terms and accordingly explicate the convergence and divergence between Reshiyyatand Mysticism. As mysticism is not the right description either for understanding Indian traditions or such traditions as Buddhism or Saivism that preceded Islam in Kashmir or for Sufism that took over after the advent of Islam in Kashmir and what is called Reshiyyat is not a species of mysticism we better abandon such a term while explicating Kashmir’s past or present religio-spiritual landscape. Reshism as a term may be replaced by another term Reshiyyat to distance it from connotations of the suffix “ism” that implies an ideological or exclusivist stance. Reshiyyat is an adaptation of traditional metaphysics in Kashmir. Shaikhul Alam should be seen as a contributor to this project of adaptation of Perennial Philosophy and not be described as mystic. His own description of himself as Reshi, understood in accepted sense in indigenous traditions and read in perennialist metaphysical language is to be respected. Tasawwuf that Shaikhul Alam championed is to be read not as a species of mysticism but esoteric content of integral tradition and seen in light of Metaphysics instead of theology that has often been the case in modern writings on it. Keeping the framework developed by great modern metaphysician-Sufis such as Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon we need to translate Ad-Deen as Tradition and see Reshiyyyat as Kashmiriu adaptation of Tradition and accordingly put in nperspective different religions that have been shaping Kashmiri spiritual landscape. We will then appreciate perennialist arguments against characterizing Reshiyyyat or Kashmiri Sufi poetry as syncretist, as simply a species of mysticism, as something that can be approached in purely historical terms, as cryptobuddhist adaptation of Islam, as exclusivist theological-moralistic school, as simply a socio-cultural movement.
Our academia, our critics, our religious scholars all have not so far been trained in metaphysics that is the key to Shaikh’s thought, that explains how Ahmed Rishi is the First Rishi but that doesn’t mean Rishhiyat began 1400years ago and that explains why the Shaikh could describe Lalla as Avatar and write magnificent praise of Buddha. The Shaikh is an icon of Kashmiri culture because he keeps first things first and holds fast to the transcendence of Spirit, of the One, of Metaphysics. So far the Shaikh has been read primarily in religious or mystical terms and that explains why confusion prevails over key issues. We need to understand him in light of the science of First Principles or Metaphysics.
Such issues and debates as Islam was radical break from PreIslamic traditions in Kashmir – the thesis supported by ideological exclusivists, religion of Lalla, orthodoxy of Sufi poets, supposed marginization of Buddhist-Saivist heritage with the advent of Islam, “Islamist” verses vs. “syncretist” verses in Shaikhul Alam’s poetry, Budshah’s supposed betrayal of orthodox Islam, antinominan tendencies in certain spiritual paths and contours of interfaith dialogue all need proper tools provided by Metaphysics for understanding.
The question is how can we teach metaphysics – though that would help only to a certain level and not substitute direct experience – in absence of philosophy department in university or failure to inculcate philosophical culture by other institutions in Kashmir? All these and related questions could be tackled if we shift the focus from historical, theological, and philosophical approaches which have hitherto dominated the scholarly scholarship to transhistorical and metaphysical one.
Reshi is defined in moral-spiritual terms and not legalistic terms by The Shaikh. The path calls for “Consecrating life to the search for Truth.” One who “tighten the belly to learn (the virtues of) patience/Gives up his ego/ Contemplates Him in seclusion” could be eligible for the lofty station of the Reshi. Shaikhul Alam, identifying true Muslim with the Reshi explicates attributes of him. “Who longs to live by the sweat of one’s mind/ Who shows fortitude in provocation/who shares meals with the hungry / who is obsessed with the idea of removing huger, who scorns anger, greed, illusion, arrogance and self conceit.” The Reshi reaches arsh by the load of his nobler actions and then only “the grace of the Omnipotent embraces him.” The Reshi is one “who remains humble despite his substance and sits very low on the wheel of life.” Consuming himself in the fire that the kalima generates and realizing the existential unity he finds the Eternal and transcends space. The Reshi, the sage, the self realized one, the inspired poet, is the image of primordial man, the Perfect Man or Adam. He has no history because he transcends history. The Light of Muhammad was there before the heavens and the earth were there. And the first Reshi is said to be Ahmad Reshi (SAW). And Ahmad, from traditional metaphysical and mystical viewpoints is Logos, the Pole of Existence, the Principle of Manifestation. He brings into consciousness the archetype of God.
If I sound too abstract or technical it is no fault of mine. We need precise technical language to put things in perspective that have divide Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims over Lalla and that have been appropriated by fundamentalists or political ideologies for their own interests. Kashmir needs precision in thinking first to help overcome ambiguity and confusion on issues of identity and politics.