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Shikasta: Re, Colonised Planet 5 (Vintage International) Paperback – August 12, 1981
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“An audacious and disturbing work from one of the world’s great living writers.” –Paul Gray, Time“A stunning book…. Read it, read Lessing like a message of hope in dark times…read her for a winter’s evening entertainment; read her to nourish your soul.” –Frank Pierson, Los Angeles Times“If the subsequent novels sustain the power of Shikasta…this series may well be a masterpiece.” –The Atlantic
About the Author
Doris Lessing was born of British parents in Persia, in 1919, and moved with her family to Southern Rhodesia when she was five years old. She went to England in 1949 and has lived there ever since. She is the author of more than thirty books—novels, stories, reportage, poems, and plays. In 2007, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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Doris Lessing's first novel in the Canopus in Argo series, 'Re: Colonized Planet 5 - Shikasta' offers her readers crucial insights into our existence here on planet Earth, which is but one of hundreds of the planetary colonies guided by Canopus. Johor is the emissary who writes his reports back to Canopus to be used as instruction for first-year students of Canopean Colonial Rule.
Johor: "I have known more than once what it is to accept the failure, final and irreversible, of an effort or experiment to do with creatures who have within themselves the potential of development dreamed of, planned for ... and then -- Finis! The end!"
We understand that mistakes are made, that there is a certain element of randomness in the universe, which brings about sudden and very destructive catastrophes, or perhaps a blast of radiation from an unknown unexpected source. This is a polarity universe - there are many others - and in such a polarity based structural environment there must be negative forces that of necessity interplay with the positive in order to generate movement and the evolution of forms.
Johor: "This is a catastrophic universe, always; and subject to sudden reversal, upheavals, changes, cataclysms, with joy never anything but the song of substance under pressure forced into new forms and shapes." Hinduism's concept of God's Play as the Divine Lila is surely described by "with joy never anything but the song of substance under pressure forced into new forms and shapes." Lessing is our Muse, Sibyl, and Prophetess. She is not only giving glimpses into our future, she is revealing the very nature of the temporal illusory holographic universe.
Johor: "I am a small member of the Workforce, and as such do as I must. That is not to say I do not have the right, as we all have, to say, Enough! Invisible, unwritten rules forbid. What these rules amount to, I would say, is Love."
Even the best of emissaries become worn down by the tasks they face, but what keeps them from giving up, is simply Love. For Love is what holds the universe together. Love is the one force, the substance that generates all Life in this universe. Love is the essence, the creative and all pervasive permeating power of the Oneness, manifested and unmanifested. Love is what lies beneath the "curtain of each atom" as the Sufi poet Mahmud Shabistari says.
The planet Shikasta is our planet Earth, and Lessing ever so accurately and brilliantly weaves our plight into her fictional tale. This is a polarity universe and thus there are dark tyrannical forces that find ways to infest even the most flourishing of planetary colonies. Shammat is the darkside rogue outpost that was rumoured to have been "colonised by criminals fleeing" yet another empire. Shammat can "succeed only where there is disequilibrium, harm, dismay." Shammat had placed a transmitter that changed the `air' [vibrational frequencies of consciousness] of Shikasta. These transmissions were working only because of "an unexpected malalignment among the stars that sustained Canopus" [the overseeing empire, benevolent and highly evolved].
Lessing reveals the essence of the sphinx-like mysteries of our world and how Life in this universe is perceived on multiple levels and layers of consciousness: "We are all creatures of the stars and their forces, they make us, we make them, we are part of a dance from which we by no means and not ever may consider ourselves separate."
Lessing's profound genius conveys the barriers in consciousness between the emissaries and the evolving colonists. The emissary Johor is attempting to explain to the [benevolent] 'Giants' who have served as an intermediary caretaker race to assist in the evolution of Shikasta's civilization and the human race living and evolving there. But even as Johor speaks, the terrible mind-numbing effects of Shammat's sinister and malevolent transmitter are taking over their consciousness.
Johor: "I saw then that it had begun. The Giants were affected, too ... and I [Johor the emissary] understood that in fact I had been changed without knowing it. I could see that soon I would be the only individual on Shikasta with the power of judgement, of reasoned action."
Johor endeavours to explain to the Giants what will happen and that the ships from Canopus are coming to take them off the planet. "And yet the Giants did not know their state ... there had been a real and drastic change. ... more restlessness, and moments too, when it seemed as if everyone there had lost themselves: their eyes would glaze and wander, and they spoke at random."
Shammat is feeding off Shikasta. These are now familiar ideas that we have heard and read over the last 30 years. Lessing foresaw and wrote it all out brilliantly in 1978.
Johor: "... the more the Natives [the human race apart from and under the benevolent guidance of the Giants who are about to leave the planet] degenerate, the more they will weaken and lose substance [rather like a connecting force, shakti or chi], the better that will be for Shammat ... Shammat cannot feed on the high, the pure, the fine. It is poison to them." This is a primary Law of Magnetism in spiritual practice and occultism. Like attracts like. If our consciousness is pure, the dark forces cannot attach to us. As long as we are in anger, fear and even apprehension of impending catastrophes, these demonic forces can weaken us, interfere with our intentions, and literally eat our energies.
Johor: "The level of the Lock [which connects Canopus to Shikasta and sends strength and harmony to Shikasta via the planet's Ley lines] in the past has been far above the grasp of Shammat. They are lying in wait, for the precise moment when their nature, the Shammat nature can fasten its nasty force onto the substance of the Lock! They are already withdrawing strength, they are feeding themselves ..."
Perhaps Lessing is only speaking metaphorically, which would be powerful enough. Or perhaps the lady Lessing too had visions. I cannot speak for her, I can only point out the amazing accuracy of her writings and especially in regard to the sheer number who came to experience and finally understand what Lessing said over 30 years ago!
Johor explains that within the Canopus empire the very essence of The Degenerative Disease is to "identify ourselves as individuals" and that "every one of us in the Canopean Empire is taught to value ourselves only insofar as we are in harmony with the plan, the phases of our evolution."
I realize that this kind of language gets into political machinations that can easily be misconstrued, and used to manipulate and control. But I believe what Lessing is talking about here is not some off-world form of communism. She abandoned that sort of tyrannical control-based propaganda many years ago. Doris Lessing is a Sufi, a mystic at heart. What she is evoking here is the Oneness, our inherent inter-connectedness, the fact that beneath all our differences in form, we are One.
Perhaps one who does truly understand is the great writer, Noble Prize winner, and Sufi, Doris Lessing. Was Lessing privy to some secret knowledge in her London days with Idries Shah, her good friend and teacher for 30 years? Did Shah's "reintroduction of an ancient teaching" impart an understanding of the cosmic plan that became her five Canopus in Argos novels? I doubt the lady Lessing, who is both Sphinx and Seer, will ever tell!
Lessing's themes here are only more vital today at the start of the second decade of the 21st century, about 40 years after the books were written.
I found this fifth book in the series, _Planet No. 5_, the most amusing of the five. All of Lessing's strengths are displayed here ... she has such a strong voice!
Each of the five books in the series stands as a complete novel, as this one does, but to grasp fully all the nuance that exists in each of the books, I think it would help to know her full, large vision of this huge novel, broken into five books. And, since this is the fifth of five ...
My recommendation: Read _Shikasta_ first. I suspect you might then, as I did, immediately go on to _The Marriages Between Zones 3, 4 and 5_, and then on to the last three volumes. But, I know, it's a large commitment of time. I found it time well spent, in the hands of one of the best authors of the 20th century.