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Nasruddin and his donkey: Tales of the holy fool


The holy fool, or the fool as wise soul, is a figure in many wisdom traditions, including the Russian Orthodox spirituality tradition, the Sufis of Islam, Zen Buddhism, Christianity and the inheritors of the Hasidic movement of Judaism. Such fools amuse, confuse, sometimes speak in simile or circuitous riddles, are often ridiculed. They are trickster figures. They are, after all, intentionally ridiculous but can succeed by that very character in breaking through a crust of resistance or disbelief. Holy fools turn our spiritual traditions upside down and inside out -- just as Jesus' parables do -- so that we can more readily see the truth within them.

“There is an enigmatic quality to the fool’s cloak of madness or nonsense that provokes attention, response, reflection, as well as laughter. The fool's inherent humility, too, may loosen the defensive, ego-inflated character of those who make too much of themselves and thus lose touch with a deeper reality,” writes John Boettinger.

The great holy fool from the Sufis is Mullah Nasruddin. Here are some of the tales told about him:

Opt out of animal cruelty in factory farms -- Go vegan!


I doubt if any of you readers are inherently cruel or approve of cruelty. I’m sure you would intervene if you saw someone being cruel to another person or to an animal. And if you did nothing out of cowardice, indifference, or selfishness—and you easily could have—I’m sure you would consider this wrong, a sin of omission. What if I were to tell you that you have just such a choice right now?

As I write this, billions of animals on U.S. factory farms are suffering physical and mental pain. Considered mere commodities and “things” to satisfy the palate of meat-loving Americans, they receive no humane treatment (no matter how much smooth-talking PR agents of the industry deny this). Never mind that they too are created in the image and likeness of God, that they feel pain just as much as we do, or that they suffer mental anguish over separation from their offspring or never being able to romp freely.

Tasty and Earth-friendly eating


Being a vegetarian or a vegan is no longer a “fringe” concept, but fast becoming mainstream. As people learn more about it and how it can help the planet, it is becoming more common. However, I find it is still difficult to get even the most avid environmentalists to switch to this kind of diet. They can learn that it is the single most effective eco-action they can take, and yet not be willing to do it.

White House announces $53 billion, 6-year plan for nationwide light rail


The White House has announced a "comprehensive plan" that dedicates $53 billion over the next six years to achieving the president's newly-minted goal of providing 80 percent of America with access to high speed rail within a generation. Details and an outline of the plan, announced by Vice President Biden, are available on the Treehugger blog.

Nine ecological virtues (continued)


Biodiversity: No one has the whole answer – not even the entire human race. We need each other, with our diverse and even conflicting, points of view. And we need the other life on the planet – her plants, animals, seas and mountains. Rachel Carson, who began the environmental movement 60 years ago by penning a protest against widespread, indiscriminate use of DDT, called her book Silent Spring. That two-word title offered a vision of the world with greatly diminished biodiversity – and it scared the daylights out of us.

Since the universe and the Earth itself are living webs of relationship, it follows that a respect for diversity and an attentive listening to others’ point of view is the only way we will find our way out of the mess we’re in, as our human-centered worldview gives way to one that recognizes we are a strand in a complex living weave.

The hermit and the ruler


An old hermit was once invited to visit the court of the most powerful king of those times.

"I envy such a saintly man, who is content with so little." said the ruler.

"I envy Your Majesty, who is content with even less than I," responded the hermit.

"How can you say such a thing, when this entire country belongs to me?" said the offended king.

"For precisely that reason. I have the music of the celestial spheres, I have the rivers and mountains of the whole world, I have the moon and the sun, because I have God in my soul. Your Majesty, on the other hand, has only this kingdom.”

Food manifesto for the future


Mark Bittman writes on food and food safety for the New York Times. In his Feb. 1 column he presents a Food Manifesto for the Future."

"For decades, Americans believed that we had the world’s healthiest and safest diet," he writes. "We worried little about this diet’s effect on the environment or on the lives of the animals (or even the workers) it relies upon. Nor did we worry about its ability to endure — that is, its sustainability.

"That didn’t mean all was well. And we’ve come to recognize that our diet is unhealthful and unsafe. Many food production workers labor in difficult, even deplorable, conditions, and animals are produced as if they were widgets. It would be hard to devise a more wasteful, damaging, unsustainable system.

"Here are some ideas — frequently discussed, but sadly not yet implemented — that would make the growing, preparation and consumption of food healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring."

The 2011 State of the World report focuses on advances in sustainable agriculture


The Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World report has been released for 2010. In the preface, Christopher Flavin, Worldwatch president, focuses on innovations in world agriculture over the last ten years, saying that these moves forward have been “an impressive success story.”

He writes: “Efforts to raise crop yields by investing in new agricultural technologies and infrastructure have met many of their immediate goals. Productivity has risen steadily in major grain producers such as Australia and the United States, while large areas of Asia, including China, have succeeded in raising yields and thereby reducing rural poverty and hunger.”

Another part of the story is that agriculture has advanced little in much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where national governments and the international community have underinvested in agriculture over the past several decades. “The failure to advance agriculture in some of the world’s poorest regions has made it impossible for rural economies to develop, leaving hundreds of millions stuck in a cycle of poverty.”

The nine ecological virtues


When I was a kid in Catholic school I memorized a list of virtues out of the Baltimore Catechism. The three theological virtues roll right off the tip of my tongue still -- faith, hope and charity. These three were followed by the cardinal virtues -- prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude -- that when cultivated led to a moral stalwartness fortified by the gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, and fear of God.

These virtues were the goal and focus of our spirituality. They were resources to not only get us through life, but to enable us to flourish as citizens, as workers, as parents. Above all, they planted in our hearts dispositions to resist temptations and to do good.

Those afternoons memorizing the catechism took place, for me, in the late 1950s, while the Cold War was raging. Now it’s early in the 21st century.


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April 10-23, 2015


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