Sunset Star 7 by Brian Sapere

 

Reflections

 

REFLECTIONS

by

IDRIES SHAH

 

 

 

FREEDOM

 

'I always look at the alternatives,' said the sheep: 'I can munch or I can bite.'

 

MAN

 

There is no inconsequential man. But what he has done to himself, and what has been done to him — that can make him in­consequential.

 

 

CHOICE

 

The word 'choice' is a fraud while people choose only what they have been taught to choose.

 

 

UNDERSTANDING

 

People are always trying to understand.

There is only one way to do that.

It is to discover why you want to understand.

 

 

ORIGINAL PERFECTION

 

He was yellow, plump and soft, his surface broken up, the movements ungainly, full of uncertainty, covetous- ness and hunger.

His main desire was to attain a state in which he would want nothing, need to make no movement, present a smooth, uniform and delicately satisfying face to the world.

He did not realise that he was a chicken who wanted to be an egg.

 

 

COMPREHENSION

 

Man does not have a capacity of instant comprehension.

So rare is the knowledge of how to train this, that most people, and almost all institutions, have compromised by playing upon man's proneness to conditioning and indoctrination instead.

The end of that road is the ant-heap; or, at best, the beehive.

 

 

BELIEF AND KNOWLEDGE

 

Knowledge is something which you can use.

Belief is something which uses you.

 

 

EVOLUTION

 

A man is deficient in understanding until he perceives that there is a whole cycle of evolution possible within himself: repeating endlessly, offering opportunities for personal development.

 

 

WHAT THE CULTURE
TRANSMITS

 

It is the stupidity and shallowness of some of our forebears which punishes us, just as much as the endowment of the wiser ones offers us opportunities.

The rejection by the stupid of valuable materials in the past caused an impair­ment in traditional expressions and terminology. When this happens, the culture becomes unable to communicate experiences because it has no means of doing so: no patterns, and a mutilated language. Thought stabilises itself lopsidedly, like an organism which has compensated for the loss of one of its parts.

Colour-blind people cannot see colours.

 

 

CHILDHOOD

 

Once upon a time there were some dis­contented children. Since their thinking capacity was not very adult, they decided that they would become happier if they changed their clothes. Some of them started to wear one kind of dress, others dressed up all differently. Then some thought that their boredom and anxiety was due to obey­ing certain rules, so they changed them. Finding that this was no good, some of them started to invent one set of rules after another, and tried to observe them, each time convincing themselves that this par­ticular set of rules would do the trick. There were all kinds of variations on this. They tried team-spirit, then they tried leaders. Then they decided that leaders were the trouble, so they decided all to be leaders, to exorcise this evil. That was not much more successful. Then they decided that certain inequalities were at the root of their difficulties, so they split into parties according to which set of inequalities was believed to be the most important. If they didn't like one set of rules, they inverted it and did the reverse, for they were practising sympathetic magic, like primitive people — though their name for it was rational analysis.

They are still at it, and seem likely to continue in this way for some time to come. At least, that is, until someone calls them in off the playground for tea.

 

 

YOUR PROBLEM

 

I have heard all that you have had to say to me on your problems.

You ask me what to do about them.

It is my view that your real problem is that you are a member of the human race.

Face that one first.

 

 

 

 

 

DEFENSIVENESS
 

When people are told things which they do not want to hear, they produce or borrow certain standard arguments to enable them to exclude the new information from their relatively closed minds.

You can usefully offset this tendency by remembering that most unfamiliar information is likely to be met by this response.

Remember, too, that the things which you already know are mostly facts, would seem to be impossible, unlikely or even symptoms of paranoia to a man or woman at a lower level of culture than yourself.

It is this kind of understanding, not emotional reaction, which will enable you and others to face the truth, and to learn more.

 

 

MANOEUVRING

 

Many individual problems relating to perplexity and mutual misunderstanding would be solved if people could only appreciate that they tend to try to manipulate one another far more often than is suspected.

 

 

CONTRADICTIONS

 

Remember that things which appear to you to be mutually contradictory are, in real philosophy, only such because of the viewpoint of the time of looking at them.

Just as a child or an idiot cannot see how you can blow hot and cold – hot to warm your hands and cold to cool your soup – the underdeveloped human brain can only think in comparably primitive patterns. 

 

 

SOLVING PROBLEMS

 

No problem can really be solved merely by assuming that it can be solved and that its solution lies in hard work – any more than that its solution lies in inaction. Yet so much the reverse do the facts appear, that rabble-rousers and pretended mystics use the problem-solving argument to keep people busy.

Solutions come through know­ledge: so much so that where there is real knowledge, there is no real problem.

 

 

SPECIFICITY

 

The analysis of a situation is one thing, the prescription of the remedy, when indicated, is another.

Diagnostic capacity does not prove therapeutic ability.

In dealing with human conditions, the procedure almost always has to be specific, not generalised.

 

 

UNDERSTANDING

 

One cannot guarantee human under­standing, but one can help to develop it.

You can, however, enable others to under­stand only very little further than you your­self understand a thing.

This is why the human heritage of study materials is so under-used; the instructors are passing on only what they can – not what there is.

Understanding one level of materials is only a stage in passing to other levels. To compromise with one's ignorance by assuming that there is no higher level is a serious weakness. It holds back others and causes one to confuse the vehicle with the content; it is also a disguised operation of self-esteem.

To believe that higher understanding is something which is not available to ordinary men is a mixture of the pessimist-culture's bequest and, paradoxically, self-esteem again: manifested in 'If I don't understand it, there is nothing to understand'; and, 'If I don't like it, it is of no use.'

 

 

MYTH AND MAN

 

Man is a myth-maker.

Myth, when manipulated by unregener­ates, is an even more effective man-maker.

Man (as he imagines himself to be), in general, is a possibility, not a fact.

For most people, the sort of man whom they imagine to exist, or assume themselves to be, does not yet exist.

 

 

LYING

 

Look at the phenomenon of lying in its relationship to fools.

Fools lie to explain or conceal their foolishness. It is not a remedy, but they use it.

Liars, again, are fools because a lie may be found out, and gambling fools are not different from the ordinary kind.

The liar fools himself that he will not be found out, and the fool fools himself that his lie will cover his folly.

It is not easy to avoid being a fool. It is possible to realise that one has been one. The remedy is not lying.

Again, it is possible to realise that one has lied, and to avoid it. Foolishness and lying being so much of a continuum, being truthful can help towards being less foolish.

It is for this reason, because it is con­structively useful, that traditional teachings have stressed the need to tell the truth and be as truthful as possible. Truthfulness means being efficient, effective. Lying is an attempt to make inefficiency into its opposite.

This is why all forms of self-deception are 'lying', and the person who foolishly cannot see the truth can approach it by practice in avoiding at least, for a start, some forms of lying.

Many durable 'moralistic' teachings are specific and effective exercises gone wrong.

 

 

OPINIONS

 

Do not ask people how they arrived at their opinions if you want the truth. By asking them you will only be entering into a game. They will only tell you what they think is true, or what they think you want to hear.

Study, rather, what they say and how they say it; what they do and what influences have played upon them in the past.

This is how you will find out, if it is necessary for you, how they have arrived at their opinions.

 

 

REACTIONS

 

Psychologists have noted, quite rightly, that when people are guilty about something, they may react strongly against it, thinking that their behaviour is rooted in other reasons. We all know, too, that an energetic reaction may have nothing to do with the subject apparently being reacted about. We should watch these things.

But there is another kind of reaction, too. People who are accustomed to being stimulated by coarse or tense impacts feel odd when approached by an often more valuable, but generally more sensitive impact. They tend to avoid contact with this, by the simple pretext of calling it 'banal', or 'uninteresting'.

A sense of anti-climax is to be watched. It may frequently be caused by the desirable disappointment of an undesirable expectation.

You cannot be certain to be able to pin down the expectation which was incorrect, or even the assumptions which make you react in this manner. But you can observe yourself reacting in this way. This is an indispensable prerequisite for training to become really sensitive to essential impressions.

It is called 'watching'.

 

 

POWER

 

People say, because the phrase attracts them:

'Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.'*

This, however, neither eliminates nor makes comprehensible powerful people.

The would-be righteous man should be able to taste the power-endowed man's feelings.

Instead of being nauseated by the following, he should be able to perceive it:

'Power is delightful to those whom it delights; absolute power, to them, would seem absolutely delightful.'

 

*Acton, First Baron, d. 1902: original version, 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely … There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder…'

 

 

GENEROSITY AND WISDOM

 

How are generosity and wisdom connected?

Here is one way:

A generous person may not have wisdom: but, unlike others, he has the means to gain it.

 

 

TOO LATE TO LEARN?

 

If proverbs had been kept in proper repair, it would have been registered that:

'It is never too late to learn' – some things.

'It is always too late to learn' – other things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OPINION

 

Opinion is usually something which people have when they lack comprehensive information.

 

 

ADULT TODDLERS

 

Many problems arise in current cultures because numerous adults behave like infants, while it is part of the convention to treat such behaviour as that of — adults. But parents would not allow it in their own children.

These people are still educable, even though their education might have to be similar to that given to children. We make few facile assumptions about 'natural' or `basic' knowledge being already in children. Oddly, we assume that adults know a lot of things which they do not.

 

 

HIGHER PERCEPTIONS

 

People imagine that higher perceptions might be attained by developing a certain inner sense.

But when a person has been working too much on the development of a certain inner sense, it is necessary to teach him by another method.

This method [works] with the concept that the sense can be activated through the exclusion of factors which inhibit its operation.

Feed and exercise a lion in a cage: you may get a fine, robust lion. In order to fulfill his destiny, we may have to turn our attention from him to — the cage.

 

 

UNNECESSARY

 

People who have organised their lives around the stability of relative ignorance regard all enterprises which do not fit in with their preconceptions as unnecessary.

They seldom pause to think, of course, that 'unnecessary' is the ideal term to preserve ignorance and especially timorousness:`If the Good Lord had expected us to fly, He would have given us wings.'

These are the very same people who would have called scientific research unnecessary if they couldn't understand it within their own logic-system, but who would rush for antibiotics as soon as someone else had developed them.

It is 'unnecessary' for the monkey to start to believe that bananas could be cultivated, not just collected. Because he is a monkey.

It is 'unnecessary' for the savage to question whether fire is occasionally not sent down from heaven by a thunder-god; or whether he could make it. Because he is a savage.

It is 'unnecessary' for a child to believe that we have to earn a living. Because he is still a child, even if he has to grow up.

It is 'unnecessary' for the adult to believe that he needs intellectual education if he is a manual labourer.

It is 'unnecessary' for the educated man to believe that he may need a different or higher form of education.  Because he already defines his state as the best or highest.

But nobody can stop the process of learning, real questioning, even if only because our ancestors started on this course many thousands of years ago. They set us on this course, and we cannot escape from it.