So … by request, the plan for this post is meant to kind of illustrate the parallels between being Hindu and being Sufi. I’ve not really done this before, and going into it I feel a bit intimidated because, unlike Hinduism, I haven’t spent the last 10+ years studying and living Sufism.
In a recent post I brought the idea that I’ve usually thought of Sufism as a type of Islamic Hinduism. Chewing on that a bit more since that post, I think I’ve changed my perspective on that. I believe Sikhism to be a better fit for the idea of Islamic Hinduism. There are other religions, too, like the Baha’i faith that could also perhaps fall into a broader category of “Islamic Hinduism” – with each path, of course, having it’s own so-called specialty.
However, as I’ve been looking around online trying to learn more about these parallels I’m finding that Sufism is indeed much like Hinduism – but it’s really only like the parts of Hinduism that are truly beyond the mundane. Like those in Hinduism who reach the upper elevations of transcendence, Sufis – despite their own “rituals” – don’t really hold much place for the things that tend to preoccupy the bulk of humanity’s religious concentration. In mainstream Islam and definitely what could be called the bulk of Hinduism ritual prevails, but from what I’ve gathered Sufis seem entirely aware that their unique practices are definitely meant to be transcended as soon as one’s development permits.
From the Hindu side of this we’re familiar with having murtis, bathing them, dressing them, feeding them, waking them in the morning and putting them to bed at night. We perform japa ritually. We begin or don’t begin certain endeavors based on the movement of the heavens. And the more orthodox parts of Hinduism even dictate on things like clothing, food, profession, and marriage. Still, for all of this there are the rare exceptions within Hinduism wherein the believer isn’t held to these things and the emphasis is often on a more direct and experiential connection to the Source, one’s true Self.
This is where the parallels between “Hinduism” and Sufism begin to show. To narrow things down a bit here, the roots of Sahaj Marg that can be traced back to Sufism indicate a Naqshabandi Sufi lineage – which is actually unique among the Sufi paths as it is the only denomination that goes back to the Prophet of Islam through the first caliph instead of the prophet’s cousin, as all the others do (I think). Additionally, depending on which source you choose to reference, there are possible Shaivite Hindu roots (well, influence) to Sufism. I don’t know much about these and can’t really attest to the verity of those claims, but it definitely seems to fit on a few levels.
In the case of Sahaj Marg practices we see a definite blending of the two that highlights the parallels. The Master or guru is important. There is the heart-to-heart transmission, or pranahuti. As with Sufism, the Sahaj Marg tends to avoid murti worship, prefering instead to worship the Divine on a more subtle level. As with some sects of Hinduism, the Yamas and Niyamas are taken to be guidelines of exemplary living that develops spirituality and improves the earth life. Mind you, the Sahaj Marg also has what are called the Ten Maxims which are totally separate.
Certainly, Sufism has it’s own set of unique practices, which could be as limiting as the bulk of Hinduism’s rituals. But once you drop all the baggage of man-made religious expression what you’re left with is where these two paths collide – indeed, I think every path combines at that level. On that note, I’m finding that it’s actually more efficient to detail the differences between these two paths than it is to highlight the parallels – a task I really have no interest in going into very deeply. I can say, though, that you can’t compare Hinduism to Sufism because Sufism is pretty much entirely mystical while Hinduism isn’t necessarily. You can compare Hinduism to Islam, but to make a fair comparison between Hinduism and Sufism you would need to isolate some path of Hinduism that is, life Sufism, pretty much entirely mystical.
I’ve attached a video I found online that might offer better insight than I am able to, although it’s quite lengthy.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha