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Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing Paperback – August 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

The most trenchant wisdom can be found in some of the most primitive people on Earth, as Robert Wolff demonstrates in Original Wisdom. Wolff, once a government psychologist in Malaysia, fell in love with a Stone Age people called the Sng'oi, a people who "had no neuroses, no fears ... had an immense inner dignity, were happy and content, and did not want anything." But he was mystified by their seemingly superhuman powers of knowing. Finally, in an experience of what he calls "oneness," ordinary distinctions dropped away, and he learned that there was a way of knowing beyond thinking. Wolff also describes his encounters in Suriname, Indonesia, and the Pacific islands, demonstrating that far from being primitive, original tribal societies are the last bastions of true humanity. Wary of both anthropologists and shaman wannabes, Wolff follows a middle path of down-to-earth storytelling, making Original Wisdom an original find. --Brian Bruya


“Each chapter in this book contains help, knowledge, and a new perspective. Even though the author is warning us about many dangers we face these days, this book is full of hope, affirmation, and love. I hope you will plunk it down on your kitchen counter or bedside table and read into it for as far as it takes you. That may be to a new and better world.” (Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of Connect and Human Moments: How to Find Love and Meaning in Your Ev)

“Robert Wolff’s moving autobiographical narrative takes us back to an older, wiser human time, when people knew that spirituality was not apart from the naturalness of things. This book demonstrates how the legendary “dream people” were not at all ephemeral, but vulnerably and exquisitely human.” (Stephen Larsen, author of Fire in the Mind)

“It will fill you with hope for a human future more in line with what it means to truly be human. Read it, dream about it, and share it with your friends. This is a message the world must hear.” (Thom Hartmann, author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (August 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892818662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892818662
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Somehow I prefer to write my name, robert wolff, without capital letters. In other countries that is very common.

I grew up at a time and in a place where there were tigers; I knew tigers in the wild. The first time was when I was about eight. As I remember it: "I saw the tiger, and the tiger smiled." I like most animals, and plants. I feel I am an integral part of Nature. Probably that is why I don't like cities -- not a natural habitat for humans.

I write about "all my relations," as native Americans say. All the beings and aspects of this planet that I relate to: the feathered people, the four-footeds, the two-legged; trees, plants; weeds; storms, sunshine, wind, rain. I write about people I have learned from, people I admire. And about animals and plants that I learn from. About the chaos that is Nature, its infinite interdependencies: everything related to everything else.

And I write to remind us that WHAT THERE IS IS ALL THERE IS.

You want statistics, mileposts? Born here, lived there, worked somewhere else, married, children (grandchildren, great grandchildren), degrees, appointments, disappointments. Yes, all of those. I am a human who belongs to the planet, to Nature more than to Man's world. I've had an exciting life, lived in many different countries in different cultures. Speak a few languages -- essential, I think, to be able to understand more than one point of view.

I'm obsessed by 'simple' -- doing without rather than aquiring more.

The world of Man is not simple. We made a world for ourselves on top of the planet, thinking we can divorce ourselves from the planetary ecology. We think we own this planet, we think we can own land, plants, animals, other people. How can we?
Our man-made world is a jumble of rules and regulations that force us to be what we were not born to be, and it has become ever more destructive because we assume ourselves the masters of this planet. Our so-called civilization tames us, as we tamed, or domesticated, plants and animals.
We deny, or ignore, what our foreparents knew to live sustainably for 100,000 years or more.
We are as much part of the planetary ecology of course as weeds and fleas. But we have power, we use force. And with that force we are abusing Life, including our own species. We are destroying the planet, our only home.
Now, 2009, I cannot see how we can prevent the crash of our illusionary house of cards.

I don't know whether we can still slow down or stop climate change. Soon it will be too late. I don't believe in hoping for the best... I do best when I look whatever faces me straight on, recognizing it for what it is. If our species, humankind, survives the planet's response to our outrageous abuses we will find ourselves in a new Nature. We may even be a new, or renewed homo sapiens.

In a new and different world I foresee that we will rediscover talents and abilities we have always had but brainwashed out of us by our current so-called civilization. That is what Rain of Ashes is about.

I learned from a tribe of very ancient people to listen to my dreams. A Book of Dreams is about finding stories in the fragments of dreams we remember when we awake (not about interpreting dreams).

A few more books, and a long list of essays on my web site ['wild' as in natural, of course, not as in 'out of control']

The Big Island, called Hawai'i, December 2009.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 136 people found the following review helpful By J.W.K on July 25, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The aboriginal Sng'oi of Malaysia are often described with words like "pre-industrial" or "pre-agricultural," but it is a mistake to think of them as living in a former stage of what of our more "advanced" society has become. As Wolff shows in this book, it would be more precise to say that are living in another world - a better world.

Having spent half his youth growing up among Sng'oi, Wolff says this: "I learned early on to be in two different realities." One reality was oriented around the clock, efficiency, technology, and harsh realism. The other was fluid, timeless, almost dreamlike - a world in which "people touched each other," a world in which "we knew animals and plants intimately." The bulk of this book is spent fleshing out differences between these worlds, in an attempt to teach us Westerners another way of knowing, another reality. Yet in the process of doing so, it quickly becomes apparent that the modern world doesn't quite measure up.

As slaves to an alienating industrial system, we civilized people must pay rent to live. A completely self-domesticated species, we live in a state of complete dependence on big industry and agriculture. We are ignorant of the flora and fauna that support our life, and helplessness to a capricious global market. Thus, the condescending glance "modern" humanity casts at so-called "primitive peoples" is extremely ironic.

Traditionally referred to as "Sakai," or slaves, by modern Malaysians, the Sng'oi do not take offense. Says one Sng'oi man, "We look at the people down below [literally, from up in the mountains] - they have to get up at a certain time in the morning, they have to pay for everything with money, which they have to earn doing things for other people. They are constantly told what they can and cannot do.
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92 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Robert Kall VINE VOICE on August 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
If this book was a drug the FDA would make it Class 3. It is that powerful and will have that strong an effect on your life.
While it is described as an account of a Malaysia tribe, it is, more importantly, a window into another way of thinking about WHAT IT IS TO BE HUMAN. That is also the name the book was originally given by it's author. Robert Wolff opens our eyes to see and think about possibilities for being human that our western world's schools and media do not teach, do not suggest.
Every person I know who has read this books says it changes the way they walk through the world, the way they see, the way they know.
It discusses ideas that impinge upon parapsychology, shamanism, Carlos Castaneda's works, intuition, healing...
The book is a precious gift that will make you feel joy and sadness-- joy from knowing the possibilities of being human, and the beauty of the Sng'oi, sadness, because the Sng'oi were reported to be "absorbed" by the Malaysian culture several years ago. They are gone.
Thom Hartmann, who wrote the forward to the book, has written several other books which share a similar vision-- Prophet's Way, Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, and Greatest Spiritual Secret.
Read this book and see if you can find a way to begin seeing and knowing, of being human, as the Sng'oi did, and see if you can find a part of them in your heart.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is truly one of a kind. It is richly spiritual yet not religion based. It is about the author's cross cultural experience, which brought him to a realization. Those moments he started to question about his commonsense of the western beliefs are so honestly stated.
The book took me into a very different world where things were simpler. In this environment I could unwind my restless heart, and observed the very foreign culture...
The effect this book had on me has been profound and long lasting. In fact I am writing this review two years after reading it.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By John M. Gilmore on March 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
I just finished this book and was deeply moved by his description of the People are in touch with what so many of us have lost and spend money and time trying to regain through books, tapes, seminars, videos, etc. His own experience of coming into knowing was fascinating and inspiring.
As one who teaches anthropology, I found some very useful and concrete examples to share with my students to help clarify points that the texts we use don't really do justice to. Wolff makes them crystal clear and explains them in a way that is easily accessible. It will help in a classroom of college students who are only taking the course because it's required to see that our approach to life is not the only way and the assumptions we make are not universal.
This is an excellent book.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Theresa Welsh on March 5, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A psychologist who grew up in the culture of Malaysia pratices first in Suriname, a small country in South America, then returns to Malaysia to study and work with the people there. He becomes involved with the Sng'oi, an aboriginal, preindustrial people. But not involved the way Anthropologists typically become involved. Robert Wolff spends time with these people in their small compounds. He communicates with them as best he can, with his knowledge of the Malay language and his meager abilities with their language, which is not related to Malay. But his knowledge of diverse cultures and languages undoubtedly help him to blend with the Sing'oi.

He does not seek to put them in a box or put a label on them, but to understand their way of living and thinking. They live simply, without many possessions or any interest in possesions. The eat when they feel like it and when they find food, which they seem to find easily in their jungle environment. This is not just a story of how the author learned to live simply and love his fellow man through contact with simpler people. He actually learned something of incredible value from a member of the Sng'oi who offered to teach him. The "teaching" mainly consisted of walking around the jungle together. But author Wolff came to a day when something "clicked" for him. Like the shaman with whom he wandered, he sudenly "knew" things without knowing how he knew them. Where before he would get thirsty and ask his companion to find water, now he "knew" that a certain leaf had water, but he also found he was not so thirsty. He found he could become one with the jungle and he also found his personal "animal that helps" was a tiger, just as his companion's animal was a snake.
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