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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Uncommon Approach to "Self Help"
Idries Shah's book, `The Commanding Self' stands out in sharp contrast to the "Me Generation" popular fads of the last two decades. It is written from a very different standpoint than that underlying the numerous books, seminars, videos, support groups, subliminal tapes and so forth that promise (though always at a price) an easy road to "self-help" and...
Published on August 31, 2001 by William F. Zachmann

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's true but is it skillful?
Reviewing this book was a challenge. I struggled with wanting to keep reading and wanting to put (or throw!) it down. The book is a wonderfully rich collection of questions and answers, touching on many aspects of Sufism, especially those of teaching/teachers and practice. The main area of investigation is the Commanding Self, "that mixture of primitive and conditioned...
Published on September 6, 2011 by W. W. Overwijk


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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Uncommon Approach to "Self Help", August 31, 2001
This review is from: The Commanding Self (Paperback)
Idries Shah's book, `The Commanding Self' stands out in sharp contrast to the "Me Generation" popular fads of the last two decades. It is written from a very different standpoint than that underlying the numerous books, seminars, videos, support groups, subliminal tapes and so forth that promise (though always at a price) an easy road to "self-help" and "self-development."

The message in "The Commanding Self' is not that we can develop and improve ourselves by these or any other similar means. It is not that we need to develop ourselves or create a more positive image of ourselves or learn to feel better about ourselves. It is not that we ought to learn better to express ourselves. It is not either that we ought to learn to love ourselves.

To the extent that `The Commanding Self' can appropriately be said to have a "message" at all, the message about the self is one that is quite shocking to our contemporary popular psychology. It is that what we take to be our individual self, far from being something to be developed, is more correctly understood as something to be overcome. It is that what one takes to be one's "self," one's apparent "personality," is in fact a relentless opponent, one's most severe obstacle to any real development.

From the perspective underlying `The Commanding Self," virtually all the Me Generation self-development schemes of the 1980s and 1990s amount to little more than fertilizer for the weeds that make up our false self, the false personality that chokes out our true possibilities for real growth. They flatter and encourage the very aspects of our false self, our commanding self, that most need to be seen for what they are: parasitical growths in the garden of the true self.

The form, however, of `The Commanding Self' will likely prove to be, to the reader who has not previously encountered Shah's writings, even more shocking than the content. In fact, just how shocking the content really is will very probably not be immediately apparent to a new reader of Shah's material. Rather, the content will initially remain concealed within the form. That form is one which many will find unsettling and unfamiliar on first encounter.

For Shah, like Rumi and others who have preceded him in the Sufi tradition, does not adhere to the simple, didactic, expository form to which we are already accustomed in ordinary books the way one is, as G. I. Gurdjieff once put it, "to one's own smell." You will find nothing in "The Commanding Self' along the lines of "Seven Simple Ways to Improve Your Life" or `Your Checklist to a Better You."

Instead, you will find what may at first seems to be a baffling mixture of brief expository sections, question and answer dialogs, stories and tales, poems, jokes and so forth. These are arranged in a sort of literary enneagon of nine sections, the plan and pattern of which is unlikely to be readily apparent to the casual reader. Only after considerable study of the material and a fair amount of "absorption time" is even a hint of the coherence of the whole likely to reveal itself.

In that sense, `The Commanding Self' provides both an introduction to and a summary of Idries Shah's more than 30 titles in print in English (with dozens of editions in other languages). Its publication comes virtually on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Shah's "The Sufis" which, in 1964, set in motion major reevaluations of assumptions in areas as disparate as psychology, theology, history and literature.
For one of the most fascinating incidental aspects of Idries Shah's work has been the way his books have been, for well over a quarter of a century, not only widely read but also hardly known. From the superficial perspective of mere literary phenomena, Shah is undoubtedly one of the most widely circulated, prolific and broadly appreciated but as yet "unknown" and "undiscovered" authors in the English language.

Despite that his books are assiduously read, appreciated and even quoted by diplomats, scholars, poets, psychologists, musicians, painters, ministers, rabbis and even rock stars, Shah nevertheless has somehow simultaneously managed to remain all but obscure to the general public. Despite that his books have been awarded numerous literary prizes of the most prestigious sort and have long been available in public libraries throughout the United States, relatively few readers have ever heard of him, let alone know something of what he writes.

My hunch is that `The Commanding Self' will very likely mark the transition of Shah's material into much wider recognition and greater popularity with the general reader. By its very nature, it is not likely to become a major bestseller (although even stranger things can and do happen with astonishing regularity). It does, however, provide a very accessible way into Shah's material for the new reader. I cannot think, offhand, of another of Shah's books that would be a better starting point for someone interested to learn about the real possibilities of human development yet who is not already familiar with Shah's work.

On the other hand, for the hundreds of thousands of people who already are familiar with Shah's books, `The Commanding Self' provides an indispensable "summa" that both incorporates and expands upon the essential material already available in titles such as "The Sufis," "Caravan of Dreams," "Learning How to Learn," "The Perfumed Scorpion," "Seeker After Truth," "The Magic Monastery," "Sufi Thought and Action" and Shah's numerous other books.

Shah once pointed out that the oft-repeated supposedly Chinese saying, "the journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step" fails to note directly that if one does not know in which direction to step (or, for that matter, why to undertake a journey in the first place) one can readily go badly astray. For those who are truly interested in their real possibilities and in the possibilities of their real self, however, to read "The Commanding Self' by Idries Shah is almost certain to be a useful step in the right direction.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes You Re-think Your Assumptions About Spirtuality, March 24, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Commanding Self (Paperback)
Westerners are very sophisticated when it comes to knowing the difference between "the real thing" and a fake if we are talking about material goods. But in the area of knowing what IS and what IS NOT real spirituality, we still have a long way to go. This book, "The Commanding Self" will give the reader a tremendous opportunity to examine his/her own assumptions about what is spirtuality and to experience one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. Idries Shah is so practical, so funny, so filled with insight, that one can almost feel one's brain expanding while reading this book. His style incorporates lecture, question and answer and the magic of the Sufi teaching story. Just when you think you have wrapped your brain around a concept that Shah eloquently explains, he illustrates it with a teaching story and allows you to "grok" it in yet another way. I have read this book many times, and feel I have only scratched the surface of understanding everything there is in it.
What is especially appealing is that in this New Age of nostrums and the expansion of so-called spirituality into the entertainment industry, Shah's book offers a sane, refereshingly intelligent look at how we have to prepare ourselves for real spirtiual progress. Interestingly enough, we may need to understand more about how the brain/mind works in order to appreciate how the teaching story operates. To talk about it would be like "trying to send a kiss by messenger" so I suggest you take a look at this wonderful book.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Commanding Self, June 11, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Commanding Self (Paperback)
Suggests ways to deal with the psychological barriers to spiritual progress. Shah emphasizes the need for people to discern their own emotional ebb and flow and come to an understanding of it, so that they operate it, and not it them. In particular, The Commanding Self helped me to develop honest and useful responses to issues of vanity, ambition, personal recognition and worldly success.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The pivotal work of the foremost contemporary Sufi exponent., September 6, 1996
By A Customer
This review is from: The Commanding Self (Hardcover)
The "commanding self" is a Sufi term for the false personality, the mixture of primitive emotionality and conditioned responses which rule the personality most of the time, inhibiting human progress. This book, like others by Shah, is designed to offer a way to transcend the limits imposed by the commanding self. The author, Idries Shah, has been described as "the most significant worker adapting classical spiritual thought to the modern world" and this book, according to the author, is a key to the entire corpus of his work. Based on tales, lectures, question-and-answer sessions, letters and interviews, the book forms both an introduction to Sufi thought and clarifies many superceded ancient classics. As novelist Doris has said, "People tempted to sample [the Sufi phenomenon] could not do better than to try this book
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Already a classic, August 29, 2005
By 
Amazon Customer (Loveland, CO USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Commanding Self (Paperback)
THE COMMANDING SELF is for what Harold Bloom, author of THE WESTERN CANON, called the "strong reader". In fact, you will find the phrase, "commanding self", hardly at all within the covers. The demand for such a silver platter approach is itself one aspect of a cluster of responses that inhibit real insight. This anthology is a veritable assault on that particular psychological barrier to spiritual progress.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think about human nature and personality., March 21, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Commanding Self (Paperback)
I loved this book. Am fascinated to know how "we tick" and what drives human beings' behavior. This is a genuine rendering of information that MAKES SENSE!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Using the ordinary to go beyond the ordinary, July 18, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Commanding Self (Paperback)
The Commanding Self is the last book that was published while Idries Shah was alive. It is a wonderfully diverse collection of essays and stories that summarizes and expands the ideas contained in his 30 plus books on Sufi thought and action. I especially enjoy the humorous stories that at first blush seem deceptively simple but on subsequent study always turn out to have deeper meanings embedded in them. A Shah interviewer once said the stories are like 'whole cloth' with a lot of things happening all at once like they do in real life. I have found recurring situations become clearer to me after the memory of a story springs into my mind sometimes months or more later.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's true but is it skillful?, September 6, 2011
By 
W. W. Overwijk (Houston, TX - USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Commanding Self (Paperback)
Reviewing this book was a challenge. I struggled with wanting to keep reading and wanting to put (or throw!) it down. The book is a wonderfully rich collection of questions and answers, touching on many aspects of Sufism, especially those of teaching/teachers and practice. The main area of investigation is the Commanding Self, "that mixture of primitive and conditioned responses, common to everyone, which inhibits and distorts human progress and understanding". The importance of this topic cannot be overstated, since every spiritual aspirant begins their journey largely identified with this Commanding Self, and thus has all kinds of assumptions, ideas, positions, opinions, fantasies and illusions about the teaching, the teacher, the method, and especially about their own capacities, motivations and intentions. Thus, a thorough understanding of (and working with) the Commanding Self is the bedrock of many spiritual paths, and notably of Sufism.

What struck me in this book, however, (and obviously it also struck the questioners, looking at their questions), is the harsh, almost hateful, stance Shah takes towards the Commanding Self. Time after time he points out how miniscule the questioner's understanding really is, how insincere their questions, how full of assumptions, etc. etc. While this approach can serve to "shock" a student out of self-indulgent vanity, we know from experience that more often than not, such a confrontational approach tends to results in the Commanding Self seizing this "insult" to fortify itself by digging in its heels, or becoming depressed, or nursing resentment, or simply leaving.

The book gives the impression that the Sufi master would be fine with this, concluding that the student was not ready, or not even cut out to ever be a student. But what of the countless tales of highly realized masters who report of their initial hard-headedness and delusions, only to eventually awaken to their true Nature? Some arrive at this point thanks to the confrontational approach Shah seems to favor, but many relate of their Commanding Self being dissolved by, for example, their teacher's love and compassion. While love can be implicit in confrontation with the truth, a run-of-the-mill Commanding Self will likely not see this deeper layer and only recognize the surface mercilessness and rejection, reacting by contracting to a point where no teaching can penetrate it.

A true Sufi Master recognizes all of what a human is, including the heart, and Sufis are renowned for their understanding of human psychology and emotions, and their ability to touch and help transform the human heart. It seems therefore that Shah knowingly chooses to present his teaching with such merciless force. Perhaps he recognizes the limitations of this approach and accepts that it may result in casualties. Given the Sufi tradition for students to study with multiple Masters in different disciplines, one might hope that Shah would send sincere students who could not respond well to his approach, to a Master who employs different means.

While Shah does a truly excellent job at pointing out the many limitations that result from identification with the Commanding Self, the reader is left wondering how then to overcome this identification in order to become "teachable". There's not a whole lot in this book on that point, other than Shah's advice to find a true Sufi Master and find out. With the Sufi path being as valuable as it is, I hope that this book doesn't cause the prospective student to think again and turn down that offer.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Might be more accurately titled "My Answers to Sufi FAQs", April 5, 2014
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This review is from: The Commanding Self (Paperback)
I couldnt have said it better than the "It's true but is it skillful?" reviewer. Well, I didn't expect the book to be ALL Question and Answer format, but I disregarded that and gave it a solid chance anyway.

My observation was that, for a student consulting (and subconciously relying on) this book to seek refuge from the reign of their own Commanding Self in order to unveil to their *naked* Truth, the aggressive-fact-enforcing-Answers that Shah provides only serve as re-dressing the newly naked Student through delivering opinion in the form of strict fact. And inducing the fear that if anyone dabbles outside the box of his answer, they are inadequate and fools to call themselves Sufi.

He should understand a lot of these students turn to Sufism due to the previous inadequacy they feel and have always felt living in the material world, and after having the "experience" that leads them to the Sufi way, they are too fragile and in the midst of destruction, to be faced with more judgements of inadequacy.

I know his intentions were sincere and from the heart, but this might be more accurately titled "My Answers to Sufi FAQs" instead.

That said, his other book "The Sufis" is phenomenal and provides the heartfelt support you need in a time when you think you've lost your damn mind. And I still will be ordering more Idries Shah books. Sometimes you don't like every shoe from your favorite shoemaker.
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5.0 out of 5 stars How to understand myself, December 26, 2013
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This review is from: The Commanding Self (Paperback)
This book, together with the rest of the corpus by Shah create a complete course of study enabling an honest person to break the cage of conditioning and to start seeing oneself in an objective way - beyond both religion and atheism. These two attitudes seem to be not even wrong, they just talk about the world and human condition in it as if a dog was talking about computers.

Shah makes things clear, in a way accessible to people who sincerely want to know, who do not filter everything through previous accumulation of ideas - called by Shah the Commanding Self and depicted on the cover as an angry dog.

The best method to try to learn how to see things as they truly are is to get several different Shah titles, browse through them and see which one has the format currently fitting with my present conditioning.

There are several formats and hopefully one of them will not stir the Commanding Self into opposition. And then we can thus strengthen through reading an alternative approach to what we see, less mechanical, less predictably hypocritical.

Good luck on the journey of self discovery. It will be interesting.
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The Commanding Self
The Commanding Self by Idries Shah (Hardcover - June 1994)
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