Pir Zia Inayat- Khan on the use of the Elemental Purification Breaths in relation to the Ecological Crisis
Excerpt from a talk at the Federation Gathering, May 2010
In a certain place Hazrat Inayat Khan (Murshid) said that there are two practices that are primary for all mureeds in this Order. One is prayer and the other is the Elemental Purification Breaths. And if one studies the esoteric practices that Murshid gave, almost all of them can be found in the classical manuals of the Chishtiya, but not the Elemental Purification Breaths. That seems to be the one practice that was his own unique contribution.
I find that very significant. It seems to anticipate the need to recover our direct participation in the life of the earth, to make ourselves Gaian humans. When we get up each morning, we can attune to the elements, to feel the elements within ourselves, to feel the earth within ourselves — no longer to feel ourselves as occupants of the earth or residents on planet earth, but as the earth itself experiencing herself through us. And if we live in that way, in the sensuous encounter with the elements, with the sky and the trees and the rivers and the earth, then more and more we’ll appreciate what is earthly, what is natural, what comes of the elements, and we’ll feel less, I think, compelled to indulge in artificial excesses that alienate us from that sense of an immediate connection with the earth.
And it’s from that orientation, from that spiritual groundedness in the earth that we are well-positioned to begin to make the kind of changes in our lifestyle that will allow us to participate meaningfully in the transformation of our time, which I think will involve big changes in transportation, and in some of the basic rudiments of life. And of course it can’t get any more basic than our sustenance, than our nourishment, and there needs to be a move away from the monocultures of industrial agriculture and a move back toward local community, local sufficiency. We can also see that industrial agriculture and specifically livestock has been a huge contribution to emissions. In fact, by some estimates half of all our carbon emissions can be traced to the livestock industry.
So the practice of vegetarianism is something for us to return our attention to with seriousness — if not a total vegetarianism, then a muhasabah, a deep examination, of the sources of what we eat — where it came from — what are the impacts of the production of those foods. Because the way that we eat is a basic expression of our relationship between self and other. What we consume has to do with the interface between person and planet.
We need to begin to make the shift, and it means moving away from big structures toward sustainable local structures. We’ve already seen, with the collapse of the economy, that we cannot afford to have corporations that are too big to fail, because they will fail, and we can’t afford energy utilities that are too big to fail. We can’t afford agriculture that’s too big to fail. Small is beautiful. And Murshid prophesied this when he spoke about the end of the world: “The conveniences and comforts of humanity in general will be linked up by one mechanism, which will produce comforts and conveniences beyond human imagination. But the smallest mistake will bring the whole mechanism to certain collapse. In this way the end of the world will be brought about.”
So on that apocalyptic note (laughter)…let me not end on a note of pessimism. If humanity does not survive this crisis — and, of course, many species will go down with us — there are little microbes down deep, and after billions and billions of years they will re-populate the planet. Life itself is not at stake. Life will continue, if not this world, innumerable worlds. And yet, here we are. This is our chance. This is our moment. Do we want that same cycle to repeat itself again and again — the cycle of a planet over long eons elaborating itself, discovering itself, producing a flourishing nervous system and unity of being that is the green earth that we have known, and reach this moment and then fall back into inertia because we haven’t made this step, we haven’t taken this next initiation into the future. That is the moment before us. And it’s a wonderful opportunity, and I believe our Sufi communities can be a part of this opportunity.
Pir Zia Inayat-Khan is the head of the Sufi Order International.
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