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Duties of Brotherhood in Islam - Part 4

by Sangharakshita

The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam” Seminar Page 1
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[Tape 19, Side 1]


Prasannasiddhi: Presumably, on a basic level, being with other people does constrain you to some extent.

S: It depends, one might say, at the most refined level, on their mental state. For instance, if you are feeling quite cheerful and buoyant and they
are heavy and depressed and you are aware of that, that does act as a sort of constraint upon you. You can't be as positive and ebullient as you
would like to be. So for you to be generally free from constraint in another person's presence, they would have to be pretty much in the same
mental state as you were, especially assuming that you were in a positive state. If they were in a negative state, so to speak, that would in effect
be a constraint upon you. Because on the one hand you could not ignore them, and on the other you would unavoidably be aware of their
negative mental state, and that would be some check on your positivity.

Ratnavira: We generally tend to be more constrained in the company of other people than by ourselves, but if you are with a very good friend it
can even work the other way round - you feel very bound up in yourself, very limited, but if you are with them, especially if they are in a good
state, you can feel less constrained -

S: Well, because you express yourself freely with your friend, by expressing yourself you can experience yourself, what you feel, what you
think, more strongly, and therefore experience yourself more strongly. You can be yourself more fully.

Anyway, perhaps this whole area is sufficiently familiar to us. There is a saying from one of the Sufis now, which strikes a slightly different note
or goes in a slightly different direction.
"One of the Sufis said:
- Do not be intimate with anyone unless piety will not increase his respect for you and sin will not diminish it. The merit or demerit should be
yours, while his regard for you is the same.
He said this because in such a case there is freedom from discomfort and formality. Otherwise, nature would cause one to observe formality,
knowing the risk of losing his esteem."

S: Here we have a saying from one of the Sufis: 'Do not be intimate with anyone unless piety will not increase his respect for you and sin will
not diminish it.' I suspect there is a certain degree of ambiguity about the word 'respect', because normally one would speak of respecting
someone less if they were sinful and more if they were pious. So what exactly do you think 'respect' means here? We mustn't, obviously, take
the English word too literally, but try to understand what the author is getting at.

Subhuti: His feeling for you, ......

S: His feeling for you; though the word is 'respect', it isn't 'feeling' or 'love', which it might well have been. Perhaps it's more a question of
overall respect, one might say or one might paraphrase. Or his respect for you as a man, one might even say.
The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam” Seminar Page 2
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Prasannasiddhi: Although even that could vary, because you have this idea of expecting someone to be 'a man' -

S: But here what is spoken of is piety and sin, and being a man might be rather irrelevant to those considerations at first sight (?). So you could
respect someone as a man, as a strong, healthy human being, even though he might on one occasion be pious and on another sinful. It could be
...... perhaps in this way.

But even that doesn't seem to go far enough when one speaks, as this saying apparently does, in terms of respecting someone regardless of
whether he happens to behave on any given occasion in a manner which is pious or a manner which is sinful, but your respect remains the same.

Nagabodhi: It wouldn't be some allusion to have the love for your soul or something behind all the accretions of - ? Or something like that.

S: But we've really dealt with that or disposed of that, haven't we, in earlier sessions? Is it respect for your potential?

Abhaya: I thought we'd disposed of that.

S: Well, perhaps we can't really fully make sense of it.

Prasannasiddhi: Although there is this thing about metta - that you can have mettā which in a sense is objectless.

S: Yes, but can you have respect which is objectless? That would normally seem to vary with someone's behaviour.

Anyway, al-Ghazali's comment says: 'He said this because in such a case there is freedom from discomfort and formality.' Here the antithesis is
between comfort and formality, not between piety and sin. I wonder how literally we should take these expressions 'piety' and 'sin'?

Kuladeva: Hasn't it really got something to do with your duty towards your brother? Even if you see him falling down in some respects, you
don't really cease in your duties towards him.

S: I was wondering whether the terms 'piety' and 'sin' were to be taken as referring more to the externals, so to speak, from our point of view, of
Muslim religious observance.

Subhuti: The formalities.

S: Well, they would not regard them as formalities in the completely meaningless sense. Nonetheless, perhaps, especially as it's a Sufi speaking,
of relatively little value. Someone might be lacking in piety in the sense that he doesn't unroll his prayer carpet five times a day, etc. etc. So it
could be that 'piety' and 'sin' refer to things of this sort, and that someone's respect and regard for you does not increase or diminish in
The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam” Seminar Page 3
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accordance with these things. That would be a possible explanation, I suppose. Perhaps we shouldn't think of 'piety' and 'sin' in terms of the
Buddhistic skilful and unskilful behaviour; perhaps it isn't really quite as serious a matter as that, at least not from our point of view or from the
Sufi point of view.

Tejamitra: So are you saying, then, that if someone does behave skilfully or unskilfully that is going to change the amount of regard -?

S: Well, yes, from a Buddhist point of view that must be so, because respect is essentially your feeling or your attitude towards that which you
conceive of as higher than yourself, superior to yourself, more developed than yourself. So, to the extent that someone behaves in an unskilful
fashion, to that extent you have less respect for him, and vice versa. So if a Buddhist is to make sense of this saying, 'piety' and 'sin' cannot refer
to genuinely skilful and unskilful behaviour.

Anyway, let's go on.
"One of them said:
- Behave politely with sons of this world; with sons of the Other, wisely; with Those Who Know, as you wish."

S: This too seems to be a saying of the Sufis. So 'Behave politely with sons of this world' - what do you think is meant by 'sons of this world'?

__________: Just ordinary people.

S: Just ordinary worldly people. Behave politely, observe the manners and customs of society. 'With sons of the Other, wisely'. Who are these
'sons of the Other'?

__________: Brothers?

S: No, I'd say it was religious people in general; the pious. With them behave wisely; what does one mean by 'wisely' - especially wisely as
distinct from politely?

Devaraja: Might be double-edged. Might be the orthodox ............. referring to.

S: Well, 'politely' suggests or seems to refer more to external manners, customs - regardless of how you actually think. But in the case of
religious people you have to be more serious. You have to be more genuine in your behaviour towards them; formality is not enough. You have
to be more mindful, perhaps. And 'with Those Who Know' - this seems to be a Sufistic term: those who are, as one might say in Buddhism, more
Enlightened. With them you behave as you wish. I think the suggestion is you can't hide anything from them anyway, so you might as well just
be yourself. They will know you for what you are, regardless of how you behave, so you need take no thought for how you should behave with
them. Just behave as you please, it doesn't really make any difference to them; they will see through you. They will know you, they will
The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam” Seminar Page 4
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understand you. I take it to mean that.

Abhaya: Do you think that's true, then? Would we agree ...

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