A Sufi Dragon, Ethiopian Dabtaras, and the Flower Garland Sutra

Welcome to our April newsletter.

We begin our selection with “A Mountain of Saints and Sages”, an article about a central shrine of the Sufi Qadiriyah order in China, the Pavilion of Lingering Illumination. This was one node in a vast network of Sufi zawiyas that stretched from China to Morocco. It was located at the foot of a mountain associated for centuries with martial power, both through the cult of Zhenwu and through the graves of Muslim generals and soldiers.

Muslims did not abandon fundamental tenets of monotheism while making religious and political sense of the deeply-rooted cosmological worldview around them, and many Muslims probably assumed that some of the deities worshipped by their non-Muslim neighbors—the Dragon King, Zhang Fei, and so on—were in actuality jinn or the angelic servants of the one “true” God.

• Next, in “The Musician and Transmission of Religious Tradition”, we have a glimpse of the liminal and revered figure of the Ethiopian darabtas, musician-healers and heirs to an elusive tradition of applied liturgical knowledge, or “white magic”.

On the one hand, he is respected for his knowledge and for his manipulation of powerful words in sung, spoken, and written forms; at the same time, his very ability to manipulate the sacred and magical links him simultaneously to the most revered and feared elements in the world of Ethiopian belief.

• Last, we present excerpts of the majestic Buddhist Flower Garland Scripture (Avatamsaka Sutra), a work in which “not only deeply speculative minds find satisfaction, but humble spirits and heavily oppressed hearts, too, will have their burdens lightened.”

Keeping the mind as stable as diamond, believe in the supremacy of buddha-knowledge:
Knowing the mind-ground is selfless, then one can hear this subtle knowledge.
Like colors painted in the sky, like the wind in space—
So is this undefiled knowledge of Buddha hard to see, though it be defined.

We would like to draw your attention to the “Making Paradise: Exploring the concept of Eden through Art & Islamic Garden Design” exhibition, taking place at the Aga Khan Centre, London, 29 April – 30 September 2021.