The Wisdom of the Sufis

Wisdom of the Sufis


Sufism is the very old, inner, mystical dimension of Islam, focusing on God as divine love and seeking union with that divine nature in order to reflect it into the world. One of the ways the Sufi mystics seek to attain such a state is through trance achieved by the stately twirling in place (what we in the West have called the ‘whirling dervishes,” but are more properly known by their own name, the Melevli.) The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi said: “The Sufi opens his hand to the universe and gives away each instant, free. Unlike someone who begs on the street for money to survive, a dervish begs to give you his life.” And the 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz said, “The sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.” But the text I want to reflect on here is by the modern Sufi, Idries Shah (1924-1996)

“The donkey that brought you to this door must be dismissed if you want to go through it.”


The donkey that has brought us to this doorway in history is materialism in its corporate capitalist form with its relentless drive for economic growth. Actually, we face two doorways; one leads down a steep flight of dark steps into the basement of chaos, a world where most of the naturally evolved environment is destroyed and we are living in poverty amidst conflict, what many are now calling the “collapse scenario” for Western Civilization.

I’m am not arguing that the place the old donkey brought us to is all bad—far from it; we have modern medicine, electricity, rapid transport. But the way in which we are doing much of what we do is unsustainable, both because of too much and the wrong technologies, especially for energy, food production, forestry, and transport (not to mention warfare).

The other doorway leads to another place that I will call “Ecocivilization.” Go through that door and we will have abandoned the old attitudes including the world view in which nature is to be “conquered” and isolated individuals compete to maximize their own wealth, believing that doing so will make them happy and the world a better place. This view has not led to the conservation of the natural base on which civilization rests, nor has it led to a just and peaceful society. It has not preserved the commons or the common good. It has not even produced much happiness because there is never enough for all our greed. We need to get off this old donkey and go through the new door where we will build a world based on our realization that we are not separate from nature or from one another but rather all are interdependent. We need the earthworms, the trees, the bees, and on and on. The Buddhists call it “dependent arising.” I could not be without you (two leggeds, four leggeds, winged, finned ones). With a new appreciation for our place in and our dependence on nature and, dare I say it—realizing that the natural world is a sacred and holy place designed by a beneficent God (Allah, Adonai, Great Spirit, etc.), we will have the will to move to renewable practices in energy, transport, housing, city redesign, permaculture, local economies, and so on. So farewell, old donkey. We are heading for the Great Transition to Ecocivilization.


All My Relatives




 The Lakota Sioux have a saying: “Maka lela wakan,’ meaning “all my relatives”. And they don’t just mean their sisters and their brothers and their cousins and their aunts—the mean all beings. All the atoms of which we individuals are made, whether bear or human or Redwood, are ancient products of the first birth of the universe. Our atoms have been used and reused in countless beings. The air we breathe was breathed by dinosaurs; the water we drink once drunk by prehistoric cave bears.  In the present moment, each of us exists only because all the others exist. This kinship is captured in the poem for today.

         All Things That Are

All things that are are kin

With each each shares one Being

Whether knowing it

Or unaware,

Nonetheless the common bond

Is there.

Brother/Sister with the trees,

With the stones,

The birds, the bees.

One great living earth

To each and all gives birth,

But mad ego separates

And thus creates

False selves who make

Sister, brother

The feared and hated other;

And so the Fall

Whence Adam’s sin

Became the sin of all.

Still, we are not condemned

By such a mental sleep

To live in hell,

Perpetuating Darkness

When the Light is clear,

We can awake,

Bring peace to all our kin

And thus shall Paradise

Come in.

(by Kent Shifferd)