To address the direction in which humanity is headed, we need to consider how we got to where we are. Historically, every nation had some concept of a higher power or powers to whom individuals could turn for help amidst the trials of life. The modes through which societies expressed their relationship with the Divine became formalized in religious institutions and rituals. Often, religious structures came to form the very core of the community.
The scientific revolution altered attitudes toward religion. New modes of thought led many individuals to conclude that there was no higher power, for the existence of such could not be rationally proven. Whereas previously, members of a society shared a communal relationship with the Divine, gradually faith came to be seen as a matter of personal choice. Societies became fragmented between the devout and the skeptical, the faithful and the atheistic. Cultures arose that could be called Godless – not because they were devoid of religious individuals, but because their central, unifying focus had become material progress rather than spiritual well-being.
Scientific discoveries and inventions increased human knowledge of the universe. But instead of being grateful for and humbled by the gifts of newfound capabilities, human beings exploited them for selfish ends. Consequently, their lives remained devoid of peace and tranquility. Materialism added to humanity’s unresolved problems by breeding political and environmental ailments. Greed and cynicism flourished. Conflicts deepened among interests and classes and between the planet and its inhabitants, placing our species on a path toward self-destruction.
Humanity was like an inquisitive, restless child, who – finding herself unsupervised in a huge, magnificent factory – sets the machinery in motion, only to stand back bewildered and helpless as it runs beyond her control. Like the child torn between excitement and terror in the face of the machinery’s might, human beings were at once made more comfortable and less secure by their technologies.
The fundamental blunder of this era lay in focusing almost exclusively on external reality and neglecting the world hidden within the human heart. Believing that the only valid sources of knowledge were sensory perception and reason, individuals failed to transcend these modes of knowing. Other dimensions of potential remained untapped. Equipped with imperfect, one-dimensional understandings of the universe, human beings could find no solutions to their ailments.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, more and more people came to realize that science and technology, for all their benefits, could not remedy human ills. Gradually, societies awakened to the need of re-establishing their relationship with the Divine.
Science helped create the dilemmas that now face humanity, and science can help us find a way out. If we conceive of the scientific approach and experimental methods with a wider perspective, we can use them to forge a pathway that will extricate humanity from its suffering and propel it to a state of peace and equilibrium.
The remedy for our global ills must be searched for in human nature itself. The study of external reality alone cannot yield the complete knowledge that is needed to fulfill humanity’s highest potentials. Equally important is the exploration of the interior world of the human being. Only by combining both realms of study can we become acquainted with the true destination of humanity and the means for reaching it.
The creeds of religions and spiritual traditions have always pointed to this fundamental truth. Each in its own era has presented a world view and practical guidelines through which humanity could make the most of its God-given potentials. These teachings continue to be sources of wisdom. But we must not allow their interpretations to become static or fixed, for times and circumstances continually change. These teachings worked in their eras because they matched their eras’ needs. To work in our children’s era, they will need to match our children’s needs.
Our order combines inner and outer studies, personal and global concerns, past wisdom and future considerations. Its teachings reflect the conviction that just as atoms have unlimited energy hidden within them, the most evolved form of matter – the human body – is a reservoir of potentialities. The student on the Sufi path searches out this treasure, following a refined scientific approach and experimental method. He or she strives to understand the essential nature of the human being, the universe, and humanity’s relationship to the universe in ways that are relevant to today and to tomorrow.
These discoveries will help us find solutions to human beings’ individual and collective problems. While material discoveries should continue to be utilized in the service of humanity, Sufism aims to uncover the capabilities within the human self and to utilize them for the benefit of all creation.
The hidden power of the self that Sufis seek to utilize is love. It is love that frees human beings from the bonds of narrow-mindedness, materialism, and selfishness. It is love that finds expression in tolerance, sympathy, benevolence, and self-sacrifice. Love motivates, inspires, challenges, and satisfies.
God Alone knows what the future holds. But as humanity evolves generation upon generation, understanding of self and of God will remain our best hope for attuning our attitudes and behavior to the needs of our species, of our-planet, and of the universe as a whole. This knowledge alone will enable us to fathom fully the inter-relatedness of human existence, the created universe, and the Creator. Through this knowledge, if God wills, our children may bring forth a creed of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, and our children’s children may live to see the day when all humanity prospers from God’s gifts of unbounded love.