The notion of fana’, commonly translated from Arabic as annihilation or obliteration, provides a potential point of contact between Sufi practices and Buddhist notions of nirvana, a word which, in Sanskrit, derives from the type of extinction one sees when one snuffs out the flame of a candle. Are there similarities between these notions, ones which might be constructed without radically oversimplifying the issues at hand? On the surface, ‘annihilation’ and ‘extinction’ might seem similar. But what a Buddhist extinguishes is craving, while what a Sufi annihilates is themselves before God. And yet, as will become clear, there are crucial parallels that can help us see the ways in which what these traditions have to teach us today have crucial resonances within and through their very real differences.
How does one achieve fana’? One remembers, and this remembering, or dhikr, often also translated from Arabic as recitation, can take many forms. Essentially, one puts oneself into sync with some original pronouncement made by God, for the universe is the speech of God, God speaks the world into being (according to the Qu’ran, by the word “Be!”), and when we remember one of God’s actions, we do so by having our action in some way coming into sync with God’s, by repeating this aspect of his recitation. And since God is beyond time and space, while we are not, God’s action is always before, during, and after ours, our actions are never initiatory, but merely remembrances of God, the one who brought about all that is, even that which is in the future. All potentials are in God, as we were, and will be.