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Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

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This article describes the Sufism philosopher, for the Sri Lankan architect see Geoffrey Bawa
Geoffrey Bawa
Deshamanya Geoffrey Manning Bawa, FRIBA was a Sri Lankan architect. He is the most renowned architect in Sri Lanka and was among the most influential Asian architects of his generation. He is the principal force behind what is today known globally as ‘tropical modernism’.-Early life:Geoffrey Bawa...


Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (died December 8, 1986) was a saintly Tamil
Tamil language
Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of the Indian subcontinent. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the Indian union territory of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore...

-speaking teacher and Sufi
Sufism or ' is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a '...

 mystic from the island of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 who first came to the United States on October 11, 1971 and established the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship in Philadelphia. From Philadelphia, with its approximately 1,000 followers, branches of the Fellowship have spread throughout the United States and Canada, as well Australia and the UK. Societies of followers were already in Jaffna and Colombo, Sri Lanka before his arrival in the USA.

Early life

According to the older Sri Lankan students, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen emerged from the jungles of that country in the early 1940s and met pilgrims who were visiting shrines in the north. Reports of dreams or mystical meetings that preceded a 'physical' meeting by these early students were not uncommon. According to an account from the 1940s, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen had spent time in 'Kataragama', a jungle shrine in the south of the island, and in 'Jailani', a cliff shrine dedicated to 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani of Baghdad. His association with that Shaikh indicates his connection to the Qadiri order of Sufism. Many of his followers who lived around the northern town of Jaffna were Hindus and addressed him as swami or guru. His role was often as healer of both medical and spiritual illnesses, including curing demonic possession.

Eventually an ashram was formed in Jaffna, and a farm was started south of that city. After business travelers from the south of the country met Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, they invited him to visit in Columbo, the capital of Sri Lanka. By 1967, the 'Serendib Sufi Study Circle' was formed by these Colombo students who were predominantly Muslims. Earlier in 1955, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen had set the foundations for a 'God's house' or mosque in the town of Mankumban, on the northern coast. This was the result of a spiritual meeting with Mary, the mother of Jesus. After two decades, the building was finished by students from the United States who were visiting the Jaffna ashram. It was officially opened and dedicated on February 17, 1975.

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen taught through the use of fables. These reflected the background of the student or listener and included Hindu, Christian, and Muslim religious traditions; he welcomed persons from all traditions and backgrounds.

Public Career in the United States

In 1971, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen accepted an invitation from an American woman to visit her in Philadelphia. She had been corresponding with him after being introduced by a university student from Sri Lanka. She and her associates made arrangements for his travel to the United States and for his stay in Philadelphia. By 1973, a group of his followers formed the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, which hosted a Meeting house that offered several public meetings a week.

As before in Sri Lanka, people from all religious, social and ethnic backgrounds would join to hear him speak. Across the United States, Canada and England, he won recognition from religious scholars, journalists, educators and world leaders. The United Nation's Assistant Secretary General, Robert Muller, asked for Bawa Muhaiyaddeen's guidance on behalf of all mankind during an interview in 1974. During the years 1978–1980 when the Iranian hostage crisis
Iran hostage crisis
The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States where 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, after a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American Embassy in Tehran in support of the Iranian...

 was occurring, he wrote letters to world leaders such as Iran's Khomeini, Prime Minister Begin, President Sadat and President Carter to encourage a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the region. Time Magazine, during the crisis in 1980, quoted him as saying that when the Iranians understand the Koran "they will release the hostages immediately". Interviews appeared in Psychology Today, the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, and in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Press newspapers. He continued his teaching and personal guidance to his students and visitors until his death on December 8, 1986.


In May, 1984, the Mosque of Shaikh M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
Mosque of Shaikh M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
The Mosque of Shaikh M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the grounds of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship. The building of the mosque took 6 months and was done by the members of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship under the direction of M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. It was...

 was completed on the grounds of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, 5820 Overbrook Avenue, Philadelphia. The building of the mosque took 6 months and nearly all the work was done by the members of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship under the direction of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen.

The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship Farm is 100 acre (0.404686 km²) of farmland located in Chester County, Pennsylvania just south of the small city of Coatesville at 99 Fellowship Drive. The center point of the farm is Bawa Muhaiyaddeen's mausoleum
A mausoleum is an external free-standing building constructed as a monument enclosing the interment space or burial chamber of a deceased person or persons. A monument without the interment is a cenotaph. A mausoleum may be considered a type of tomb or the tomb may be considered to be within the...

 or mazar. It was begun shortly after his death and completed in 1987. It is a place of pilgrimage for Sufis and their Sheikhs, as well as Muslims and followers of other religions.

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen established vegetarianism as the norm for the community and meat products are not permitted at the Fellowship center in Philadelphia or at the Fellowship Farm.

He was an artist and created paintings and drawings that symbolized the relationship between man and God. He described his art work as "heart's work." Two examples are reproduced in his book titled Wisdom of Man and another is the front cover of the book Four Steps to Pure Iman. In 1976, Bawa Muhaiyadeen recorded and released an album of meditation, on Folkways Records
Folkways Records
Folkways Records was a record label founded by Moses Asch that documented folk, world, and children's music. It was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in 1987, and is now part of Smithsonian Folkways.-History:...

 entitled, Into the Secret of the Heart by Guru Bawa Muhaiyaddeen.

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen authored over twenty-five books. These books were created from over 10,000 hours of transcriptions of audio and video recordings of his discourses and songs in the United States from 1971 to 1986. Some titles originated from Sri Lanka before his arrival in the U.S. and were transcribed later. The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship continues to study and disseminate this repository of his teachings. It has not appointed a new leader or Sheikh to replace his role as teacher and personal guide.

Titles and Honorifics

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was referred to as Guru
A guru is one who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom, and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others . Other forms of manifestation of this principle can include parents, school teachers, non-human objects and even one's own intellectual discipline, if the...

 or Swami
A swami sometimes abbreviated "Sw." is an ascetic or yogi who has been initiated into the religious monastic order founded by Adi Sankara, or to a religious teacher.The Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology as...

 or Sheikh
Not to be confused with sikhSheikh — also spelled Sheik or Shaikh, or transliterated as Shaykh — is an honorific in the Arabic language that literally means "elder" and carries the meaning "leader and/or governor"...

 or 'His Holiness
His Holiness
His Holiness is the official style or manner of address in reference to the leaders of certain religious groups. In Christianity, specifically the Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, Armenian Orthodox Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Roman Catholic...

' depending on the background of the speaker or writer. He was also addressed as 'Bawangal' by those Tamil speakers who were close to him and who wanted to use a respectful address. He often referred to himself as an 'ant man', i.e., a very small life in God's creation. After his arrival in the United States in 1971, he was most often addressed as Guru Bawa and he established the Guru Bawa Fellowship. By 1976, he felt that the title 'guru' had been abused by others who were not true teachers in his estimation. In that year, he decided to drop the title Guru and the organization became the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship. Most of his American students use the familiar name 'Bawa' when speaking of him.

By 2007, a new honorific, Qutb, was being used by his students in the publications of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen's talks. Qutb means literally pole or axis, and signifies the spiritual center which explains and reveals through divine wisdom the true nature of man. The name Muhaiyaddeen means 'the giver of life to true belief' and has been associated with previous Qutbs. By using this lofty title, his students are presenting him as a universal teacher for this era.


A larger selection of quotes is available at Wikiquote.
  • "The prayers you perform, the duties you do, the charity and love you give is equal to just one drop. But if you use that one drop, continue to do your duty, and keep digging within, then the spring of Allah's grace and His qualities will flow in abundance."

  • "People with wisdom know that it is important to correct their own mistakes, while people without wisdom find it necessary to point out the mistakes of others. People with strong faith know that it is important to clear their own hearts, while those with unsteady faith seek to find fault in the hearts and prayers of others. This becomes a habit in their lives. But those who pray to Allah with faith, determination, and certitude know that the most important thing in life is to surrender their hearts to Allah."

  • "The things that change are not our real life. Within us there is another body, another beauty. It belongs to that ray of light which never changes. We must discover how to mingle with it and become one with that unchanging thing. We must realize and understand this treasure of truth. That is why we have come to the world."

  • "My love you, my children. Very few people will accept the medicine of wisdom. The mind refuses wisdom. But if you do agree to accept it, you will receive the grace, and when you receive that grace, you will have good qualities. When you acquire good qualities, you will know true love, and when you accept love, you will see the light. When you accept the light, you will see the resplendence, and when you accept that resplendence, the wealth of the three worlds will be complete within you. With this completeness, you will receive the kingdom of God, and you will know your Father. When you see your Father, all your connections to karma, hunger, disease, old age will leave you."

  • My grandchildren, this is the way things really are. We must do everything with love in our hearts. God belongs to everyone. He has given a commonwealth to all His creations, and we must not take it for ourselves. We must not take more than our share. Our hearts must melt with love, we must share everything with others, and we must give lovingly to make others peaceful. Then we will win our true beauty and the liberation of our soul. Please think about this. Prayer, the qualities of God, the actions of God, faith in God, and worship of God are your grace. If you have these, God will be yours and the wealth of the world to come will be yours. My grandchildren, realize this in your lifetime. Consider your life, search for wisdom, search for knowledge, and search for that love of God which is divine knowledge, and search for His qualities, His love, and His actions. That will be good. Amin. Ya Rabbal-‘alamin. So be it. O Ruler of the universes. May God grant you this."

Literature and Books by His Students

A number of books have been published by students of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen that explore his teachings from their perspective and understanding and detail the impact these teachings had on their lives.
  • Owner's Manual for the Human Being by Mitch Gilbert, One Light Press publisher, 2005, ISBN 0-9771267-0-6

  • The Illuminated Prayer: The Five-Times Prayer of the Sufis by Coleman Barks and Michael Green, Ballantine Wellspring publisher, 2000, ISBN 0-345-43545-1. According to the publisher, the book "offers a compelling introduction to the wisdom and teachings of the beloved contemporary Sufi master Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, who brought new life to this mystical tradition by opening a passage to its deepest, universal realities. It is the loving handiwork of two of Bawa's best-known students, Coleman Barks and Michael Green, who also created The Illuminated Rumi."

  • One Song: A New Illuminated Rumi by Michael Green, Running Press publisher, 2005, ISBN 0-7624-2087-1

  • My Years with the Qutb: A Walk in Paradise by Professor Sharon Marcus, Sufi Press publisher, 2007, ISBN 0-9737534-0-4

  • THE MIRROR Photographs and Reflections on Life with M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (Ral.) by Chloë Le Pichon and Dwaraka Ganesan and Saburah Posner and Sulaiha Schwartz, published privately by Chloë Le Pichon, 2010, ISBN 0-6153-3211-0. A 237 page large-format photographic compilation with commentary by 78 contributors.

Coleman Barks
Coleman Barks
Coleman Barks is an American poet. Although he neither speaks nor reads Persian, he is nonetheless renowned as an interpreter of Rumi and other mystic poets of Persia.- Biographical notes:...

, a poet and translator into English of the works of the 13th-century Sufi poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, has described how he met Bawa Muhaiyaddeen in a dream on May 2, 1977. As a result of that meeting, he began to translate the poems of Rumi. Coleman finally met Bawa Muhaiyaddeen in person in September, 1978 and continued to have dreams where he would receive teachings. In Coleman's estimation, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen is on the same level of enlightenment as Rumi and Shams Tabrizi
Shams Tabrizi
Shams-i-Tabrīzī or Shams al-Din Mohammad was a Persian Muslim, who is credited as the spiritual instructor of Mewlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhi, also known as Rumi and is referenced with great reverence in Rumi’s poetic collection, in particular Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrīzī...

, the companion of Rumi.

External links

Online Books and Videos