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.



Stories We Tell Ourselves: Stories We Could Tell Ourselves

Every people tells its story and, sometimes, distorts the truth. Our American story is about a new start for humanity and tells us of coming to an empty, undeveloped land where we could be free to worship, free to own land, free of class distinctions and an aristocracy, self-governing, and where hard work would bring advancement in life. Every generation would do better than their parents.

There’s a lot of truth to this version, but it’s glaringly incomplete. The land was not empty. Old civilizations had been here for thousands of years before “we” came, some farming, some living intimately with the land as hunter gatherers. We drove them off, based on the view that might makes right and that “we” could make “better” use of the land. You all know this. And you know that “we” did not start out with self-government; only the rich could vote and sit in office. You also know that “we” went to Africa and stole human beings and forced them into servitude to do the much of the work that “built the nation.” Again, might made right. We even burned women alive as witches at Salem.

Now don’t get me wrong—none of you did any of that. It was long ago, but that does not mean that we who live today are not culpable of fixing what wrongs remain from these atrocities, this terrorism, for that is what it was.

Now consider what has become of the original vision that Tom Jefferson put forward. Americans were to be free because they would be beholden to no one but themselves since they would live on small hold farms that would feed and clothe them. Living simple, healthy lives while caring for the land. Self-sufficiency would yield liberty and with it, dignity.

And today? Less than one percent farm—nearly all rest of us are employees, under the power of someone else, often giant corporations that are ruining the land: blowing the tops off of mountains, polluting the groundwater, fouling the air. So how do we go forward to a better America, one that revives the old virtues in new ways? I am not talking about going back to sod houses, toothache, and incest. But let us reason together about how to recapture true liberty, self-government and how to live so as to protect the land, the water, the air—indeed the whole Creation. What is the course correction we will need? What is our new story? What is our new vision?