DUNE: Sayings of the Zen-Sunni Wanderers

Ignore the space opera trappings. Dune goes deep. Early Dune illo by John Schoenherr.

Time does not count itself.  

One has only to look at any circle.

Suns are circles.

Each universe is a circle.

Circles are enclosures.

Whatever encloses and limits must expose itself to the infinite.

A problem that cannot be resolved by rational means.

— ZenSufi aphorisms

Muad’dib. Arrakis. Bene Gesserit. Fremen. Stillsuits. Sandworms! Yeah yeah… and Jodorowsky and Moebius and David Lynch and Eno and Denis Villeneuve and a bunch of fairly famous actors… it’s been said that many people know OF Dune, but few have actually read the books.

Soon to be set to film again, Frank Herbert’s Dune mythos weaves a rich tapestry of back-stories and philosophy — much socio-political speculation, but wisdom drops too.

However, the lead Hero aside, in our opinion, the real stars of Dune are the Bene Gesserit… A sisterhood based on inner discipline, martial arts, individual memories cumulatively passed down mind-to-mind through hundreds of generations, breeders of humans to someday attain the “Kwisatz Haderach”: – a highly evolved individual…

(Arguably, the Dune mythos is really the story of an ERROR in this quasi-eugenicist long-range breeding program (an error induced by romantic love). The character of Paul — “Muad-Dib” — with all his powers, was not supposed to happen. Paul sets off a crusade, and his son becomes a hybrid monster, dominating the galaxy for millenia.

Another back-layer: before the story begins, a successful war against “thinking machines” has already occurred thousands of years earlier. At the time of the story, AI is banned by galactic law. Computers have been replaced by ‘Mentats,’ humans with computer-like analytical and memory skills.

Further, Dune represented an early embodiment of ecology.

Dune was also prescient re: psychedelia: the Spice Melange, in some ways more similar to the grueling Ayahuasca journey than standard “tripping”, induces a “Spice Agony. ” For those who survive the trip, Spice acts as a gateway to prescience, ancestral memory, extended life, AND the ability to navigate across interstellar ‘foldspace’.

And sexy glowing blue eyes.

So, as mentioned, ignore the space opera trappings.

Dune runs deep, and let’s not forget, was a core “attractor” of the 60s counter-cultural imaginaire.

Intriguigingly, Frank Herbert drew on a LOT of Islamic references, most too obvious to itemize.

(We suspect the Fremen ‘Sietch’ (hideaway) was modeled after Petra. Where Mohammed once hung out and dosed on pharmahuasca in the caves, according to some theories.)

One of the lesser elements, alluded to but not often spelled out, are the Zen-Sunni Mystics, so-called. Or sometimes Zen-Sufi.

Wanderers, persecuted, escaped slaves perhaps, who first colonized the harsh desert planet of Arrakis, they were the origin of the Fremen. Despite the name, they seem closer to Shi’ism than mainstream Sunni Islam. A version of the Ismaili gnosis, maybe, extrapolated into a future history. Bedouin with wearable tek, basically.

You can find the fan version of the ZenSunnis here.

In Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse, we get a few quotations, mostly as chapter header epigrams.

Below quotes are all from Chapterhouse, the closing volume in the series.

Paired opposites define your longings and those longings imprison you.

Ultimately, all things are known because you want to believe you know. – Zensunni koan

Answers are a perilous grip on the universe. They can appear sensible yet explain nothing. – The Zensunni Whip

Uproot your questions from their ground and the dangling roots will be seen! More questions! — Mentat Zensufi

You cannot manipulate a marionette with only one string. – The Zensunni Whip

The person who takes the banal and ordinary and illuminates it in a new way can terrify. We do not want our ideas changed. We feel threatened by such demands. “I already know the important things!” we say. Then Changer comes and throws all our old ideas away. – The ZenSufi Master

In Heretics of Dune we get a few more in the standoff between two opponents, Taraza, a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother and Waff, a Tleilaxu Master. Both of whom turn out to be secret ZenSunni initiates.

Time does not count itself.  

One has only to look at any circle.

Suns are circles.

Each universe is a circle.

Circles are enclosures.

Whatever encloses and limits must expose itself to the infinite.

— Zen-Sufi Aphorisms, from Heretics of Dune

What Herbertian philosophical quips lack in rhyme or poetry they make up for in weight. Sometimes a tad portentous, true. Evoking the tonality of archaic gospels of the far future.

And in any case, all this might just be an excuse to share the black and white artwork of John Schoenherr, the first visualizer of Dune, published in the pages of Analog SF Magazine in the late 60s. And maybe still the best. At least Herbert himself thought so.

For more Dune, check IdeasofIceandFire channel on YT.

Paired opposites define your longings and those longings imprison you.–ZenSunni aphorism

Comments (2):

  1. Moshe Feder

    2021, October at 7:53 pm

    I agree that that the degree to which Herbert drew in Arab/Islamic sources is interesting — bravely ignoring the fact that it could be mocked as too “on the nose” as inspiration, and getting away with it — especially considering that the myth/MacGuffin at the heart of the story, the Kwisatz Haderech, is a Hebrew term from Jewish mythology!

  2. neelu_editor

    2021, October at 7:57 pm

    Thx for the footnote!

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