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The most important book on Sufism ever published.
on January 18, 1998
Terry W. Williams, Ph.D., Del Mar, CA.
Idries Shah's The Sufis, first published in 1964, is the seminal work of this famous Afghan author and a first-of-its-kind modern statement on Sufism. A famous Sufi once said, "Previously Sufism was a reality without a name. Now it's a name without a reality." One meaning of this saying is that there was a time when the science and procedures of learning the meaning of mankind's existence were clearly understood and formed an essential part of human life. However, that meaning has been lost by humanity and only the name remains. In The Sufis, Idries Shah has made a monumental contribution to bringing this precious meaning back into the life stream of humanity.
This book, written after years of travel, research, and collection of an amazingly diverse array of materials, presents the reader with a series of startling revelations concerning the basis of the knowledge structure of Western and Eastern thought. The idea of an advanced knowledge in the custody of, for the most part, unknown and mysterious people with strange powers, may seem at first glance to be an absurdity. The idea that the unified knowledge of the Sufis concerning the developmental and evolutionary potential of mankind influenced or lay behind the organization and theories such as those of Chivalry, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Roger Bacon, Geber, Hindu Vendantist teachings, the Troubadours, in Shakespeare, the Rosicrucians, the techniques of Japanese Zen, in Chaucer - to name only a few - is sure to clash with the conditioned thinking inculcated by submersion in conventional thought and maintained by our environment.
In the book, Shah states: "Sufism, in one definition, is human life. Occult and metaphysical powers are largely incidental, though they may play their part in the process, if not in personal prominence or satisfaction. It is axiomatic that the attempt to become a Sufi through a desire for personal power as normally understood will not succeed. Only the search for truth is valid, the desire for wisdom the motive. The method is assimilation, not study."
"The Sufi life can be lived at any time, in any place. It does not require withdrawal from the world, or organized movements, or dogma. It is coterminous with the existence of humanity. It cannot, therefore, accurately be termed an Eastern system. It has profoundly influenced both the East and the very bases of the Western civilization in which many of us live - the mixture of Christian, Jewish, Moslem and Near Eastern or Mediterranean heritage commonly called `Western.' Mankind, according to the Sufis, is infinitely perfectable. The perfection comes about through attunement with the whole of existence. Physical and spiritual life meet, but only when there is a complete balance between them. Systems which teach withdrawal from the world are regarded as unbalanced."
"When, and where, did the Sufi way of thinking start? This is, to most Sufis, slightly irrelevant to the work at hand. The "place" of Sufism is within humanity....' The practice of the Sufis is too sublime to have a formal beginning," says the Asrar el Qadim wa'l Qadim (Secrets of the Past and Future). But as long as one remembers that history is less important than the present and future, there is a great deal to be learned from a review of the spread of the modern Sufi trend since it branched out from the areas which were Arabized nearly fourteen hundred years ago. By a glance at this period of development, the Sufis show how and why the message of self-perfection may be carried into every conceivable kind of society, irrespective of its nominal religious or social commitment."
"Sufism is believed by its followers to be the inner, `secret' teaching that is concealed within every religion; and because its bases are in every human mind already, Sufic development must inevitably find its expression everywhere. The historical period of the teaching starts with the explosion of Islam from the desert into the static societies of the Near East."
Thus, Idries Shah takes us on a developmental journey through the past fourteen hundred years, from the angle of how, when, and where the Sufic stream was in operation in the East and West. Thought provoking and written like a finely crafted mystery, The Sufis is an astounding and unparalleled source of information on the totally unexpected basis of Eastern and Western thought. It will appeal to those interested in spiritual and metaphysical ideas, as well as those with a yearning to discover the impulses which are the basis of our humanity.