And yet, though we strain
against the deadening grip
of daily necessity, I sense there is this mystery:
All life is being lived.
Who is living it, then?
Is it the things themselves,
or something waiting inside them,
like an unplanned melody in a flute?
Is it the winds blowing over the waters?
Is it the branches that signal to each other?
Is it flowers
interweaving their fragrances,
or streets, as they wind through time? — Rilke
Recently I received, from a well-known academic and Muslim here in Chapel Hill, a blanket criticism of American Sufis, pointing out that “we” do not understand the true meaning of Sufism, but veil our understanding within the bias of “our” Western capitalistic world view. He gave, as an example, Deepak Chopra who, he says, charges $5,000 for a weekend seminar. The implication is that real Sufis are not materialistic, and do not practice the kind of engaged spirituality he believes is the correct way of life for a true Sufi.
Well. Where do I start?
First of all, I wasn’t aware that Deepak Chopra bills himself as a Sufi. Second, I was not aware that he is an American, but I will admit I do not know, because his words do not attract me, nor does his being. Third, I object to blanket statements about any group, particularly from a noted academic who ought to be capable of more critical thinking. Finally, I am not aware that the practice of Sufism means that one is “this” or “that” or holds a particular world view . . . and I find it astonishing that someone who is supposed to be an “expert” on such matters would make such an irresponsible statement.
As for me, I just sit on my porch and watch the birds and listen to the trees. It seems to me that the trees know where they stand, and the birds refuse to favor one position over another, and thus they demonstrate, for me, the meaning of the word Allah. I will say one thing about “we” American Sufis: sometimes we can be rather naive and uninformed about the Islamic framework in which Sufism has become known to the Western world, but it seems to me that such constructs are really only the “basket that carries the flowers,” and I think the essence is available to us all, regardless of our station in life or our political views or our geographic location in space and time. I was reminded, recently, by my new favorite book, Physicians of the Heart (see below) that the word Allah is derived from the Arabic verb waliha, which means to love passionately, intensely, totally: “crazy love.”
The teacher who brought me up told stories about the rishis in the Himalayas, the Desert Fathers, the Yogis and the Madzubs, the Chassids, the contemplatives of all the varied ways to illumination who refuse to “join the club (or the “old boys’ network”),” those ones who refuse to believe the lies, those ones who hold the world up in space, who keep it spinning, wobbling, staggering along because they say Allah . . . and leave “them” to their devices. And Allah is a name that can be called in many, many ways . . .
Let us not forget: in the Al and La of Allah are the words yes and no. The rest is just excuses.
The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In daily life, be competent.
In action, be aware of the time and the season.
No fight: No blame.
Tao te Ching