Letter on Earth Unity to Shah Karim Al Hussaini, Aga Khan

Dear Mowlana Hazar Imam, Shah Karim al Hussaini, Aga Khan,

Though I am a murid, I write to you today as a human being, more deeply as a creature of the Creation. I write on the subject of climate change – the highest priority human beings must confront at the moment aside from ongoing war, and until we achieve a stability in the climate transition and true sustainability.I want to state as well, that I believe you are playing a strong role in the world toward world peace. My sense is that world peace is necessary in this century, in order for human beings to reverse the collapse of the biosphere, the sacred web of life. The two are related. The subject of this letter more directly, is climate change. Biosphere health and world peace are what I feel conscious humans will want and need to achieve in this century, more than anything else.

As a murid, it has been a privilege to hear only truth from you in each firman I have listened to, and to be proud of each public speech you have given. In particular, you have guided us to use reason in our application of faith to our lives and to live ethically. It is the application of reason and ethics that guides me to this letter. My search for understanding and a way to apply ethics and reason in my life led me to study philosophy and nursing, but ultimately I earned my BA in Psychology and my MA in Globalization and International Development. I studied meditation in the Zen tradition, Indian classical music, and I worked for nearly 20 years now in frontline social services, in street health and with the homeless, as well as being a leader in global health education at the University of Ottawa. On March 13th of this year, I had an experience of lucid truth that gave me confidence to send this letter.  I do not know and cannot say what term to apply to it from our tradition, some type of Didar was given. It was an experience of inner oneness and true self, which reflected on the beauty of that spring day, brought for a vision of Earthly paradise for all living beings. If everyone attained this state of unity consciousness, world peace would follow easily from awareness. But one leg cannot wait for the other to walk; and it is not about me and my spiritual merit, so I must proceed like this from what I see.

My accomplishments are empty, Mawla, for I am a father now of a four year old daughter who is yet unaware of the world I have brought her into. I am writing for her sake. Unless I find a true path, I cannot leave this world as a safer and more secure place for my daughter. I already know that if she learns well the knowledge of this world, she will face heavy burdens we have left her. A child should not learn how to shoulder the burdens of her ancestors, a child should learn how her ancestors succeeded in confronting their reality, how to build upon this, a child should not learn of her ancestors ignorance but of their wisdom and enlightenment.

Mawla, the jamat has many strengths, yet I am concerned that the jamaat does not comprehend the cause and effect relationships between the globalizing lifestyle of mobility and consumption that represents the example of merit and success in this world, and climate change, deforestation, habitat destruction, pollution of air, water, and rivers, the genocide of indigenous culture and indigenous wisdom, workplace stress, loss of a nutritious diet, loss of family and social time, cruelty to animals, poverty, global instability and ongoing war.

My jamaat does not understand living in relation with the Earth and all God’s creatures. This wisdom is almost entirely lost on my Jamaat Mawla, in my experience. Mawla, my jamaat perceives the world narrowly and does not comprehend its power and responsibility, and yet in a narrow way it finds itself successful in large part because it is well-guided and cared for towards mainstream success. But the mainstream is headed off a cliff, down a waterfall, to an unknown ocean, an unknown landing. That is clear from the scientific data on the biosphere.

Mawla, education is good, careers are good, but education and careers emphasize personal accomplishment and downplay one’s wider relations. Mawla, I have considered my own reduction of annual carbon footprint to roughly the world target for sustainability to be a personal accomplishment. However it is worthless because very few people who are successful in modern society willingly adopt this path. My Canadian culture does not follow it; my Jamaat adopts my Canadian culture, and follows the consumption path. Therefore, my contribution has no effect. People are given the opportunity to recycle and make other small adjustments, and if they do it and that is good, but Mawla it has very little effect. My jamaat lives in ignorance of the impact of their lifestyle, and my jamaat is not cognizant of the impact of their model of success in the global village. Mawla, today all over the world, particularly in India and China, those who are attaining some success are also adopting such a lifestyle, seeking an escape from the deprivations wrought by centuries of colonialism. We present an illusion of comfort, luxury, reward, an illusion we present without noting the cost. The cost to loss of community life and culture, the cost to health, the cost to family, and the impact of all other beings on the planet who suffer from the impacts.

I see that my personal efforts to reduce my impact by reducing my consumption have no effect other than to satisfy a little my conscience. I see that I can only have effect if I use my communication abilities to convince others to see the truth of things. Yet I see that I cannot convince my brothers and sisters very easily. It is very rewarding to me to live simply, but I live against the grain. It is obvious to me, that one by one, I can’t convince others to reduce their carbon footprint to an amount adequate for climate security. I can’t even convince them that a lifestyle such as mine, with less work and more time, with a bicycle instead of a car, is more rewarding. If you found an island where people live in nature without money, they are not poor, but once you bring them in relation with global society, they are. So relative poverty is an illusion, and yet the race for affluence creates absolute poverty and injustice and it is clear. So what is the point of going that way? There is not much I can do to show the way one by one. Since I cannot, I seek to reach people who have more reach and develop a relationship. In my workplace, I tried to change our food purchasing to reflect an ecologically sustainable and healthy diet. It appears my bosses can respond to this advocacy to a point, and yet small success here does nothing again. I still will not reach my goal of leaving an inheritance of a healthy climate and stable world for my daughter.

I have participated with others in direct action. I have been arrested defended old growth forest locally against the construction of the highway. Direct action is somewhat more satisfying since it does not require convincing people; it asserts itself directly from truth and confronts the reality of the situation. Even where it fails, it disrupts in a small way the system which is creating climate disaster and the other ills mentioned. Yet, we all know that it is not enough, that we have not yet altered the trajectory. That trajectory we feel is very real. It is as if the world is a river, and now we are creating ahead of ourselves a waterfall, and we are already in the rapids.. Yet no one knows how difficult these rapids and waterfall will be.

Mawla, it is my perception that people are under the wrong understanding of the nature of truth and reality in our context which is deteriorating rapidly. It is my perception that people believe that they are insulated by virtue of belonging to a group, by prayers and so forth. They believe that prayer works by magic and everything and their children will be safeguarded by it. This is not my understanding. It is my understanding that prayer and meditation illuminate both one’s deepest needs, and the state of how things are, that they purify intentions, thus guiding the way forward, thus illuminating a true path.

I have found this true both of my accomplishments and mistakes. My errors come from ignorance of self and in distortions of my relations. Errors are from accomplishing something and realizing that it is not important or good for me and I have wasted time and paid other costs. Errors are from thinking that taking steps A and B will achieve their results when in fact they will not and lead to other problems. Errors are in not perceiving my true predicament, and not recognizing my responsibility to all creatures and seven generations ahead of my progeny.

Our errors are to believe that it is possible to live a virtuous life without relation to the interdependence that gives life. Our error is to believe that we are being served by the success of major corporations who mine, who dig up oil, who transport, who raze rainforests, who displace people and pollute the environment, because they sell us so much. Our errors are to believe that we can use science to power all our technologies, and ignore science when it tells us of the impact of our power. Our errors are to believe that we are following wise traditions on neither a right path, when in fact we are demonstrating so clearly our lack of wisdom, that we do not have answers, nor a path for our children and future generations, nor a justification to all we have harmed. Our error is to believe we have not played a role in a holocaust, when that holocaust is before us.

Mawla, in my life I have tried to defend and justify and escape my errors, and I have sought forgiveness. Mawla, God is all-forgiving, all-merciful. But I have found that though I have been forgiven, only if I comprehend things and correct what it is that I’m doing will I grow, will I improve conditions, will I cease the suffering that comes from errors. In Indian classical sitar that I play, if my errors are from poor technique, if my errors are from lack of practise, if my errors are from over-confidence and exceeding my abilities, if my errors are from lack of knowledge, all is forgiven. Even if my teachers feel I am in error because I am diverting from the teachings, I am forgiven. If I am diverting out of ignorance I am forgiven. If I am diverting knowing that what I want to play is different, I am forgiven. Allah is all-forgiving.

However Mawla, if I know that I am in error in the way that I am playing due to any of these factors, forgiveness only helps me to overcome my sadness and continue so that I can correct the error. If I continue the error, I get the same result. Mawla, it makes sense therefore, that if I want to correct an error from technique, I would attend to technique, if I need more practise, I find time to practise more. And so on. Thus, for a people, for a civilization, all may forgiven by God. Yet, if a people wish to confer a legacy they can justify to their children and they are in error at the moment, the correct course is to correct the error. The question will be, how will we live with what our children inherit from us? All forgiveness is only possible if one can forgive oneself. Thus, living in error makes it more difficult, makes for more suffering. This I have learned from a lifetime of working with people trying to overcome some very difficult personal behaviours, in addictions and mental illness. Yet the harm they cause others is minimal, and it is merciful to note that individual errors are understandable, have very little impact on those relations of theirs who take self-responsibility, and are therefore easy to forgive. The largest evils of humans are done in mundane complicity with the powers that be and allow this world to die, and I am part of that. Not forgiving does me no good. Thus, I forgive all beings. If I can, surely God who is most forgiving will. It does not solve this dilemma for our children, that we are forgiven. It is not a question of what happened already, or what one individual is doing wrong now, it is a question of truth and action on a planetary scale.

Mawla we associate wealth with success but it is amazing to me that a poor person with a difficult life is much more likely to be neutral in the harm they cause my grandchildren than a successful person, by virtue of the fact they cannot afford to drive or fly. It is amazing to me how bad our assumptions and treatment of the poor are. Yet even for someone who has been treated all their life very badly from abuse as children to the treatment they receive from society, even given the fact I can understand very deeply how they respond to pain, I only can counsel people with regards to the least harmful ways they can respond to their situation, and where they are in error in their self-care or affecting others in their environment, I can gently correct that. I can see that people can thus change their behavior and gain skills at living. And people with so little do this, while the rich are too comfortable to care. Mawla, as a jamaat who is very successful in the globalizing civilization, we need to change our behavior and gain some skills at living in relation to the Earth. This is best inheritance we can give our children.

Mawla, I have the following recommendations based on sending a strong signal of change.
1. Make the Imamate and all Jamaati institutions carbon-neutral.
2. Create aggressive standards for the AKF and AKDN that set an example and have an impact on climate security.
3. Give clear guidance to the Jamaat on the ethics of consumerism and a signal for change.
4. Commission the Institute for Ismaili Studies to find an ecological interpretation of Judeo-Christian-Islamic mythology and scripture to understand it in the context of the environmental crisis. Find the links with unity consciousness of indigenous traditions and paths such as Buddhism and Taoism. Where did we go wrong? What can we learn from more ecological spiritualties? How can our tradition be integrated into ecology? What values that underpin globalization need to be challenged from an ethical standpoint?
5. Give as an inheritance to the future, the Imamate back to the Earth.. Declare as 50th Imam, the Earth itself as Mother-Father. End the patriarchal rule of religion. Retain and dedicate the institutions of the Imamate to the preservation of the species and our web of life, to world peace, and the end of poverty. Open the Jamaat to all human beings in relation to all living beings. Invite indigenous, climate-affected and poor people to serve in top positions of our institutions, and give new ceremonies that reflect the inclusiveness and all-encompassing nature of God in our tradition.

This last recommendation may seem extreme but not in the light of both the evidence for possible extinction of our species – the most radical consequence of our inaction, and in light of all of the gnostic time-based prophecies including our own cycles of 7 upon 7 Imams that all point to transition now. There is a choice between death and liberation toward Earthly paradise before us. The prophecies set us upon a fork in the river that sees the end of one era that must give birth to another with the time pressing.

My request is to consider these words. My own commitment is to build from my communities, an Earth Unity movement that embraces all living beings. Each of us has air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and a soul that runs like a river through this body. Each of us lives in the same predicament, and it is to live in awareness that I ask all my brothers and sisters. In order to love and protect my own family I must love and protect all.

I am one who writes this from a great place of happiness, in surrender, in Sakina, in Love with All Creation. No fear or aversion, only Love for you and our Jamaat, blessings.

Arif Jinha

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