Seeking Reality
Through Buddhism to Islam
By
Muhammad Mawlud (formerly Reverend Sangarakkita)

From: Nuradeen Magazine

From the Nuradeen Magazine Vol. 3, No. 3 -- Fall/Winter 1983

Muhammad Mawlud, from Sri Lanka, was born into a Buddhist family and ordained himself as a  Buddhist monk in his search for truth. After five years as a monk following the spiritual disciplines of a Buddhist ascetic, he met some Muslims in Sri Lanka who were traveling with their Shaykh (a spiritual master). As a result of his association with the Shaykh and his murids, Muhammad Mawlud embraced Islam and went to America to visit the community there.

The following is his story about the experiences of his life that led up to this event, and a short narration about Gautama Buddha and his path.

I was born in Vawniya, located in the northern part of Sri Lanka. My parents were from the south. When I was young I was sent to a hostel, as my parents had separated. They reunited and brought me home, but I was unhappy and ran away at the age of twelve. They found me but I ran away again and again. Finally, after more than two years away from my parents, I returned home with the intention of behaving correctly. I went to school, but mentally I was confused and dissatisfied. During this period I met Jayantha, who spoke to me about meditation. He introduced me to some teachers and I began to practice meditation and learned about the Buddha's doctrine. It led me to a good beginning upon the spiritual path.

I felt the necessity to renounce worldly affairs but could not find a teacher skilled enough to take me to the goal of self-knowledge to ordain me as a monk. After searching for some time, two friends and I decided to ordain ourselves as monks, as the Buddha had done, with no connection to a teacher or sect. We built a mud hut to live in, went from door to door begging for our food, practiced according to what we learned from early scriptures, and tried to imitate the Buddha as much as we could. We were helped by a man who used to be an ascetic, and learned from him some aspects of outward discipline.

Soon the nearby villagers heard about us and wanted to support our livelihood. They proposed to build us a better residence and other facilities. They began to make a society and elected a chairman, secretary, and other officers. This, we thought, was going to become like our lives before, so we left the place and began to wander again. We used to spend time in caves, cemeteries, and empty huts. We would separate and then meet up again. I had to beg and sometimes had no food, water, medicine, nor a place to sleep. I had nothing to protect me, no capacity to earn, few attachments and no responsibilities. Therefore my mind was reasonably quieted. That lifestyle led me to many interesting experiences.

Accidentally, when I saw a girl, or something that I liked, all the passions and misery would suddenly be aroused in me. Violence, jealousy, and other emotions would spring up with intensity and appear more powerful and unbearable than before. I became angry with myself. I hated the life of the world, because as an ascetic I could not have it. I used to criticize the things of the world. Sometimes I would see myself as a hypocrite, because I was suppressing the desires within me.

At this time I read some books that led me to a new outlook. I also met Heenatiyana Dhammaloka Mahanayaka Thero, a high priest whom I admired very much. I became his pupil and learned many things from him. He passed away in his 82nd year and I felt alone. I sensed no more spiritual vibration in the monastery and felt at a loss. I had no intention in my life. I read some books on Sufism and became interested in these teachings. I met a Sufi teacher called Bawa. He advised me to continue my studies, but soon he left Sri Lanka. Once again, I found myself alone.

One day on my return from a gathering of Bawa's disciples, I was approached at a bus stop in Colombo by two young men who asked me why I was dressed in robes and had a shaven head. As we talked I noticed that one of them had a "tasbih" (prayer beads). I found out they were visiting with their Shaykh who was giving public talks. I came to where the Shaykh was staying, but he had gone to the eastern part of the island. I met his close associate Hajj Muhammad Ibrahim who explained to me something of what he had learned from the Shaykh.

The next day Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri returned from the east and I attended a public meeting where he spoke. I was able to take many beautiful points about self-knowledge from him. I kept company with Hajj Muhammad and other brothers and learned the prayer and some points from the Qur`an.

Shaykh Fadhlalla asked me to visit the community at Bayt-ud-Deen in the United States and I went. During this time I listened to the Shaykh's lectures on Qur`an, began to study Arabic, did salat and dhikr. The brothers worked together, cooked together, and I really enjoyed myself. I did not see any necessity to remain a Buddhist monk as I began to see the beauty and deep spirituality of Islam.

Shaykh Fadhlalla sent me into "khalwa," or isolation, to meditate on Allah for a few days. That experience gave me a different view about myself. I began to recognize my slave-ness to Allah. I feel as though I am just a new comer to this tremendous world. By Allah's grace I have everything to learn about Allah. Now my
intention is to become a pure slave to Allah and serve Him only.

 

The Way of Buddha

The word 'Buddha' means 'the enlightened one' in the ancient Pali language, and was applied to a man who lived over 2,500 years ago in the subcontinent of India. His name was Gautama and by all indications he was a messenger of Allah sent to the people of India to establish the way of Truth, and the path to Him. "And messengers we have mentioned to you before . . . and messengers we have not mentioned to you, messengers of good news and warning in order that mankind might have no argument against Allah after the Messengers." (Qur`an 4:164-165).

Gautama Buddha's teaching was the teaching of Tawhid, but as with every spiritual teaching except that of the final messenger Muhammad, may Allah shower his blessings upon him and his family, it became corrupted and degenerated, and of course was superseded by the Prophetic teachings that came after it.

Gautama Buddha was a prince raised in a royal family to become king. He led a very sheltered life, until when older, he was exposed to the harsh realities of existence. He had many keen experiences that indicated to him the transitory nature of the world, until he renounced his kingdom and set out in search of Truth.

The Buddha was an outstanding ascetic, and endured extreme privations, until after many years he discovered the middle path, the path of moderation. He developed special breathing techniques in meditation and soon reached enlightenment. After reaching enlightenment, he did not want to teach, because he was unable to explain the nature of the shattering experience of gnosis. But a divine being came to him and invited him to teach as he was the Messenger of his time.

In the same way as our beloved Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family and grant them peace, Buddha reached out first to those who were closest to him. He began teaching five fellow monks who had been his companions. As he successfully led these men to enlightenment, he then took on sixty disciples and transmitted the pure knowledge of Tawhid to them. After fully training them in all aspects of outward practice and inward discipline, he sent them to all parts of India, and the teaching began to spread.

Buddha faced many difficulties throughout his life, and there were many enemies to his teachings. As with every genuine spiritual teaching, his message abrogated the traditional practices that were before it and upset established customs. There were several attempts on his life, and once his own brother-in-law let loose a drunken elephant upon him in hopes that it would trample him to death. When the elephant charged up to the Buddha however, it stopped and knelt down in order to pay its respects.

Buddha's teaching was not only for a few ascetics living in the wilderness, but a comprehensive path that included all aspects of life. His teachings were collected into a book called the "Tripitaka." Another book, the Dhamma Pada, is known popularly by the people. It is a topical collection of the discourses in the Tripitaka in four hundred-fifty stanzas and is still in existence today. There are many texts about his life, and there is a book of five hundred-fifty stories which Buddha told, and interpreted their outward and inward meanings. The essential basis of his teachings were laid down in five precepts: The first was no killing or harming any being. The second was no stealing. The third was no adultery or fornication. The fourth was no lying. The fifth was no intoxication.

For the people who aspired to be monks there were more conditions, but these five commandments were considered to be enough for those who wanted to live an upright and moral life. These precepts were then followed by the eight fold noble path to enlightenment. By following this path with the guidance of a true spiritual master, the sincere seeker was able to attain inward knowledge and vision of the Truth.

The first step is correct understanding. As there were sixty-four different philosophies at the time of Buddha, it was considered necessary to discriminate between the pure and the impure. The basis of this discrimination are the four noble truths: Suffering, the cause of suffering, the eradication of suffering, and the way to eradication of suffering.

The second step is to have correct thoughts. By thoughts are meant correct intentions and positive opinions.

The third step is correct speech. One not only has to be truthful, but one must also not harm anyone by harsh speech.

The fourth step is correct action. One's actions and intentions must be unified. Otherwise one would be in a state of hypocrisy.

The fifth step is correct living. One's lifestyle and dealings with the world must be honest and correct.

The sixth step is correct effort. One must practice meditation in a balanced way, without starving the body.

The seventh step is correct mindfulness. This means to be aware, and to be present in the moment. By this one attains true efficiency.

The eighth step is correct concentration. Only by eliminating stray thoughts through ceaseless effort may one reach the goal of inward knowledge.

After the death of Buddha, his followers split into different sects, and the original pure doctrine was gradually dissipated. There are now two major schools of Buddhist thought known as the hinayana and the mahayana. All have different interpretations and applications of the Buddhist doctrine. The remarkable record of this ancient messenger is a proof that Allah has sent a messenger to every people, and provided a means for them to take on their noble heritage, as Allah's Representatives on Earth.

"And certainly we raised in every nation a messenger, saying: Serve Allah and shun the devil, then of them was he whom Allah guided, and of them was he whose remaining in error was justly due. So travel in the land then see what was the end of the rejecters."