False Prophets Part 4









‘To a sick person, sweet water tastes bitter in the mouth.’





The Nature of Conditioning and Indoctrination


    Human beings are conditioned by a constellation of experiences. In some cases the conditioning is by deliberate indoctrination while in other instances the conditioning factor is imperceptible and unrecognized. “Individuals and groups of people are played upon, diverted and pulled along channels chosen by others, sometimes acceptably, sometimes otherwise.”



 Learning How to Learn


Psychology and Spirituality

in the Sufi way


One hundred conversations with Idries Shah

Octagon Press, London




Take warning from the misfortunes of others, so that others need not have to take warning from your own. — Saadi, Rose Garden, 13th Century


When the camel of our efforts sinks into the mud, what matter whether the destination is near or far? — Ustad Khalilullah Khalili, Quatrains, 1975


The world has no being but an allegory: From end to end its state is but a farce and play.Shabistari, Secret Garden, 13th Century





On Attention

(pp. 85-88)


Characteristics of Attention and Observation



Q:   Can you define characteristics of attention and observation as of importance in Sufic studies?


A:   Study the attracting, extending and reception, as well as the interchange, of attention.


One of the keys to human behaviour is the attention-factor.


Anyone can verify that many instances, generally supposed to be important or useful human transactions on any subject (social, commercial, etc.) are in fact disguised attention-situations.


It is contended that if a person does not know what he is doing (in this case that he is basically demanding, extending or exchanging attention) and as a consequence thinks that he is doing something else (contributing to human knowledge, learning, buying, selling, informing, etc.), he will (a) be more inefficient at both the overt and the covert activity; (b) have less capacity of planning his behaviour and will make mistakes of emotion and intellect because he considers attention to be other than it is.


If this is true, it is most important that individuals realise:


1.  That this attention-factor is operating in virtually all transactions.


2.  That the apparent motivation of transactions may be other than it really is. And that it is often generated by the need or desire for attention-activity (giving, receiving, exchanging).


3.  That attention-activity, like any other demand for food, warmth, etc., when placed under volitional control, must result in increased scope for the human being who would then not be at the mercy of random sources of attention, or even more confused than usual if things do not pan out as they expect.





1.  Too much attention can be bad (inefficient).


2.  Too little attention can be bad.


3.  Attention may be ‘hostile’ or ‘friendly’ and still fulfill the appetite for attention. This is confused by the moral aspect.


4.  When people need a great deal of attention, they are vulnerable to the message which too often accompanies the exercise of attention towards them, e.g., someone wanting attention might be able to get it only from some person or organisation which might thereafter exercise (as ‘its price’) an undue influence upon the attention-starved individual’s mind.


5.  Present beliefs have often been inculcated at a time and under circumstances connected with attention-demand, and not arrived at by the method attributed to them.


6.  Many paradoxical reversals of opinion, or of associates and commitments, may be seen as due to the change in a source of attention.


7.  People are almost always stimulated by an offer of attention, since most people are frequently attention-deprived. This is one reason why new friends, or circumstances, for instance, may be preferred to old ones.


8.  If people could learn to assuage attention-hunger, they would be in a better position than most present cultures allow them, to attend to other things. They could extend the effectiveness of their learning capacity.


9.  Among the things which unstarved people (in the sense of attention) could investigate, is the comparative attraction of ideas, individuals, etc., apart from their purely attention-supplying function.


10.  The desire for attention starts at an early stage of infancy. It is, of course, at that point linked with feeding and protection. This is not to say that this desire has no further nor future development value. But it can be adapted beyond its ordinary adult usage of mere satisfaction.


11.  Even a cursory survey of human communities shows that, while the random eating tendency, possessiveness and other undifferentiated characteristics are very early trained or diverted – weaned – the attention-factor does not get the same treatment. The consequence is that the adult human being, deprived of any method of handling his desire for attention, continues to be confused by it: as it usually remains primitive throughout life.


12.  Very numerous individual observations of human transactions have been made. They show that an interchange between two people always has an attention-factor.


13.  Observation shows that people’s desires for attention ebb and flow. When in an ebb or flow of attention-desire, the human being not realising that this is his condition, attributes his actions and feelings to other factors, e.g., the hostility or pleasantness of others. He may even say that it is a ‘lucky day’, when his attention-needs have been quickly and adequately met. Re-examination of such situations has shown that such experiences are best accounted for by the attention-theory.


14.  Objections based upon the supposed pleasure of attention being strongest when it is randomly achieved do not stand up when carefully examined. ‘I prefer to be surprised by attention’ can be paraphrased by saying, ‘I prefer not to know where my next meal is coming from’. It simply underlines a primitive stage of feeling and thinking on this subject.


15.  Situations which seem different when viewed from an over-simplified perspective (which is the usual one) are seen to be the same by the application of attention-theory. E.g.: People following an authority-figure may be exercising the desire for attention or the desire to give it. The interchange between people and their authority-figure may be explained by mutual-attention behaviour. Some gain only attention from this interchange. Some can gain more.


16.  Another confusion is caused by the fact that the object of attention may be a person, a cult, an object, an idea, interest, etc. Because the focii of attention can be so diverse, people in general have not yet identified the common factor – the desire for attention.


17.  One of the advantages of this theory is that it allows the human mind to link in a coherent and easily-understood way many things which it has always (wrongly) been taught are very different, not susceptible to comparison, etc. This incorrect training has, of course, impaired the possible efficiency in functioning of the brain, though only culturally, not permanently.


18.  The inability to feel when attention is extended, and also to encourage or to prevent its being called forth, makes man almost uniquely vulnerable to being influenced, especially in having ideas implanted in his brain, and being indoctrinated.


19.  Raising the emotional pitch is the most primitive method of increasing attention towards the instrument which increased the emotion. It is the prelude to, or accompaniment of, almost every form of indoctrination.


20.  Traditional philosophical and other teachings have been used to prescribe exercises in the control and focussing of attention. Their value, however, has been to a great measure lost because the individual exercises, prescribed for people in need of exercise, have been written down and repeated as unique truths and practised in a manner, with people and at a rate and under circumstances which, by their very randomness, have not been able to effect any change in the attention-training. This treatment has, however, produced obsession. It continues to do so.


21.  Here and there proverbs and other pieces of literary material indicate that there has been at one time a widespread knowledge of attention on the lines now being described. Deprived, however, of context, these indications survive as fossil indicators rather than being a useful guide to attention-exercise for contemporary man.


Attention upon oneself, or upon a teacher, without the exercise of securing what is being offered from beyond the immediate surroundings, is a sort of short-circuit. As Rumi said: ‘Do not look at me, but take what is in my hand.’






Overall Study

(pp. 187-188)


Method, System and Conditioning



THERE are four factors which, when applied upon human beings, ‘programme’ them like machines. These are the factors which are used in indoctrination and conditioning. By their use, deliberate or otherwise, self-applied or otherwise, the human mind is made more mechanical, and will tend to think along stereo-typed lines.

Innumerable experiments, recent and ancient, have fully verified the presence and effect of these factors. They are: tension alternating with relaxation, sloganisation and repetition.

Because most human beings are trained to accept these factors as part of their ‘learning’ process, almost everything which is presented to a human being to be learned is generally converted by him into material which he applies by these methods.

The test of a teaching system, and of its success, is whether (1) it is applied by these methods, knowingly or otherwise; (2) it develops into a system which uses these methods.

In the various groupings of people engaged in this kind of teaching whom I have contacted during the past few years, virtually none is free from this element or these factors. The result is that one set of slogans has been changed for another: and phrases like ‘man is asleep’; words like ‘essence’, certain exercises and techniques as well as literary material, have been studied so closely and so diligently that they have succeeded in the main only in indoctrination. Their instrumental effect is spent.

It is mainly for this reason that tradition repeatedly says that the formulation must change in accordance with the people, the place and the Work.

It is extremely easy to test the individuals who have developed (through no fault of their own) this (‘conditioned-reflex’) response to work-terms and other teaching stimuli. Such people always respond in a typical manner to approaches made to them, and in this respect they do not differ from people who have been indoctrinated into any static and linear system: political, patriotic, economic, religious, philosophical, where the extra dimension of understanding is weak or absent.

There is, however, a saving grace. This is that if we retrace our position to the point just before the learning and teaching became ‘established’ as a conditioning in the mind of the individuals, we can reclaim the flexibility which the work demands. The methods used to do this, however, are not ones which are familiar to most people.

You have to be able to understand before you can verify.

People ordinarily do not reach deeply enough into themselves to find out how to learn about what Sufis call Reality. They make premature assumptions about how to learn, and what attracts them must be good, and so on, which in the end defeats their putative purpose.




In the Bostan of Saadi there is the tale of the man who once saw a limbless fox and wondered how it managed to be so well-fed. Deciding to watch it, he found that it had positioned itself where a lion brought its kill. After eating, the lion would go away, and the fox would eat its leavings. So the man decided to allow fate to serve him in the same way. Sitting down in a street and waiting, all that happened was that he became more and more weak and hungry, for nobody and nothing took any interest in him.


Eventually a voice spoke and said: ‘Why should you behave like a lamed fox? Why should you not be a lion, so that others might benefit from your leavings?’


This story is itself an interesting test. One sometimes finds that it encourages people with a desire to teach to set themselves up as teachers, and enables others, who are more humble, to rearrange their ideas, so that they can learn first, no matter what they readily imagine about being able to teach and benefit others before getting their own focus right.


Everything man needs is in the world. How does he use it? Think of the Eastern proverb: ‘God provides the food, men provide the cooks.’






Sufi Studies

(pp. 257-262)


Teaching Methods and Prerequisites



Q:   According to the Sufis, is there any knowledge of the difference between teaching and conditioning; and do people know what they want when they set out to learn?


A:   People are conditioned not only by deliberate indoctrination, but also by systems whose proponents themselves are ignorant of the need for safeguards to prevent conditioning. People are also conditioned by a constellation of experiences. In most human societies, unanimity of thought has been arrived at by an unrecognised conditioning process in which virtually all the society’s institutions may be branches of the conditioning process.


This information is neither new nor necessarily exciting. But it is essential. What is new about it is that it has been concisely and effectively revealed in studies made in the West, notably since the end of the Korean war. If you do not know or believe the foregoing, you will either have to accept it as a working hypothesis, or else leave all attempts at studying other matters aside until you have caught up with this information in the generally available sources on the subject. In such a case your basic information is incomplete, and your prospects of progress are as limited in a higher sense as if you were trying to become an academic but were not yet literate.

Certain traditional teaching-systems have continuously maintained the knowledge of this ‘conditioning by environment’ factor. The essence of their systems has been twofold: (1) to stress the fact of conditioning, in order to redress the imbalance produced by it; and (2) to provide study-formats and human groupings in which the conditioning cannot easily operate.

No such systems deny the value of conditioning for certain purposes: but they themselves do not use it. They are not trying to destroy the conditioning mechanism, upon which, indeed, so much of life depends.

This is the first lesson: People who are shown for the first time how their views are the product of conditioning tend to assume, in the crudest possible manner, that whoever told them this is himself opposed to conditioning, or proposes to do something about it. What any legitimate system will do, however, is to point out that conditioning is a part of the social scene and is confused with ‘higher’ things only at the point when a teaching has become deteriorated and has to ‘train’ its members.

The second lesson is that the majority of any group of people can be conditioned, if the group is in effect a random one: non-conditioning-prone groups can only be developed by selecting people who harmonise in such a manner as to help defeat this tendency.

People who hear this may tend automatically to assume that this is a doctrine of the elite. But this assumption is only accepted by them because they are ignorant of the process and the bases. The primary objective is to associate people together who can avoid conditioning, so that a development can take place among these people which in turn can be passed on to larger numbers. It can never be applied to large numbers of people directly.

Many people who hear for the first time that conditioning is a powerful, unrecognised and spiritually ineffective development react in another manner which is equally useless. They assume that since conditioning is present in all the institutions known to them (including any which they themselves esteem highly) that it must always be essential. This is only due to the fact that they are not willing to face the fact that any institution may become invaded by a tendency which is dangerous to it.  This is not the same as saying that the institution is based upon it.

When people are collected together to be exposed to materials which will defy or avoid conditioning, they will always tend to become uncomfortable. This discomfort is due to the fact that they are not receiving from these materials the stimuli to which they have become accustomed as conditioned people. But, since they generally lack the full perception of what is in the materials, (and since it is a characteristic of conditioning materials that they may masquerade as independently arrived-at facts), such people do not know what to do. The solution to this problem which they will tend to adopt is some kind of rationalisation. If they receive no accustomed stimulus of an emotional sort, they will regard the new or carefully selected materials as ‘insipid’.

This is a further lesson. Everyone should realise that the vicious circle must be broken somewhere and somehow. To substitute one conditioning for another is sometimes ridiculous. To provide people with a stimulus of a kind to which they have become accustomed may be a public or social service: it is not teaching activity of a higher sort.

Unfortunately, people have been so trained as to imagine that something which is hard to understand or hard to do, in a crude sense, is a true exercise. Hence, people are often willing to sacrifice money, physical effort, time, comfort. But if they are asked (say) not to meet, or to sacrifice the attention of a teacher, this they find nearly impossible to bear, simply because their training is such that they are behaving as addicts. They may want sacrifice or effort, but only the kind which they have been trained to believe is sacrifice or effort. ‘Stylised effort’, though, is no effort at all.

Most unfortunately, they do not know that the system to which they have been trained has always (if they have developed such a taste for it as we have just described) fulfilled its optimum possible developmental function at a point long before we are likely to have encountered them. It has now become a vice, ritual or habit which they are unable to recognise as such.

The prerequisite of an advanced form of teaching is that the participants shall be prepared to expose themselves to it, and not only to some travesty which gives them a lower nutrition to which they have become accustomed.

This is in itself a higher stage than any repetition or drilling or rehashing of words or exercises or theories. And, in its way, it is a challenge. Can the participants, or can they not, really enter an area where their effectively cruder desires and automatic responses are not pandered to?

If they cannot, they have excluded themselves from the Teaching.

In order to become eligible, it is the would-be students who have to ‘sort themselves out’. They have to examine themselves and see whether they have merely been using their studies to fulfill social desires, or personal psychological aims, or to condition themselves. They should also be told the simple fact that, for instance, if you shout ‘I must wake up!’ often enough, it will put you to sleep. If their sense of power, for instance, is being fed by means of the suggestion that they are studying something that others do not know, they will get no further. If they are deriving any personal pleasure or other benefit from ‘teaching’ others, they will not learn any more. If they depend upon their study-community alone or mainly for friends or somewhere to go once or twice a week or month, they will get no further.

There has been a confusion between teaching and the social or human function. To help or to entertain someone else is a social, not an esoteric, duty. As a human being you always have the social and humanitarian duty. But you do not necessarily have the therapeutic duty; indeed, you may be much less well qualified for it than almost any conventional professional therapist.

It is impossible to spend time with virtually any religious, philosophical and esotericism group, or even to read its literature, without seeing that a large number of the people involved, perhaps through no fault of their own, and because of ignorance of the problems, are using these formats for sociological or psychological purposes of a narrow kind. It is not that their spiritual life is right in these groups. It is that their social life is inadequate.

‘As above, so below.’ Just as in ordinary worldly considerations, there can be inefficiency or confusion as to aims, so there may be in approaching higher knowledge. You may be able, initially, to pursue higher aims through lower mechanisms and theories, but you cannot pursue them by indulging short-term personal interests.

You must follow your personality interests somewhere else. In an advanced society there are more institutions catering for such outlets than anyone could possibly need. Make sure that your professional, commercial, social, psychological and family needs are fulfilled in the society to which you belong. The rest of you is the part which can be communicated with by means of the specialised techniques available to those who have a comprehensive and legitimate traditional learning: and who have the means of safeguarding it.

This is what you have to study first of all. Most people are trying to effect something else, no matter what they imagine that they are doing. Fortunately, it is not hard to recognise this if enough sincere effort is expended.

In ordinary life, if you think that your family is largely a commercial proposition, people will point out that you are misguided. If you thought that your profession was mainly for social purposes, people would soon put you right. It is time that you were correctly informed in this field as well. You must know, or find out, the difference between meeting to learn and experience something, and meeting in order to be emotionally stimulated or intellectually tested or socially reassured.

There is no harm at all in a social ingredient in a human relationship: far from it. But when this gets out of balance, and a human contact becomes an excuse for a social contact, you are not going to learn, no matter what materials you are working with. ‘Due proportion’ is a secret skill of the teacher.

The repeated upsurge of apparently different schools of higher study in various epochs and cultures is due in large part to the need to rescue genuine traditional teachings from the automatism and social-psychological-entertainment functions which regularly and deeply invade and, for the most part, eventually possess them.

Certain physical and mental exercises, as an example, are of extremely significant importance for the furthering of higher human functions. If these are practised by people who use things for emotional, social or callisthenic purposes, they will not operate on a higher level with such people. They become merely a means of getting rid of surplus energy, or of assuaging a sense of frustration. The practitioners however, regularly and almost invariably mistake their subjective experiences of them for ‘something higher’.

It is for this reason that legitimate traditional higher teachings are parsimonious with their materials and exercises. Nobody with a task to perform can possibly (if he knows about his task) do so in a manner which is not benefiting people on the level required.

The foregoing information should be read and studied and understood as widely as possible. Without it there is little possibility of serving any group of people, anywhere, otherwise than socially or with shallow psychology, no matter what theories, systems or exercises are employed.

Where there is ideology, conditioning and indoctrination, a mechanical element is introduced which drives out the factor of extradimensional reality perception which connects the higher functions of the mind with the higher reality.

Sufi experiences are designed to maintain a harmony with and nearness to this Reality, while mechanical systems effectively distance people from it.




(pp. 271-273)


Jumping to Conclusions



ASSUMPTIONS can stand between the student and what he might learn, if these preconceptions are not correct or if they are not functional.


The assumptions that spirtual paths should take this or that form, should be followed by this or that type of person, should belong to a certain kind of recognisable institution, etc., these ideas not only block learning – they often transform it into a search for the expected diversion, and therefore, in reality if not in appearance, towards becoming a part of the entertainment industry.


To connect with people at the outside edge, so to speak, Eastern sages have grown beards and worn turbans; to point up the jumping-to-conclusions syndrome, others have behaved like lunatics to alert those who are most teachable; yet others have not compromised with expectation to any real extent. And frauds and adventurers, to exploit the only-too-obvious assumptions, have never been slow to accord with them – to tell people what they want to hear.


If you cannot question your assumptions, you must stand up to be counted among the people of whom some may be right: but who include a large number of people, conditioned to bigotry, who must be wrong.


Perhaps worth thinking about is the illustrative test which was recently applied to over two hundred people who had been attracted to a certain spiritual teaching. They were given a number of statements and literary extracts and asked which of them were genuine and which not. Over eighty-five per cent of these people got the answers wrong: they identified the spurious documents and statements as genuine.


This indicated at least two things: (1) that these people, for the most part, had not been attracted to the teaching through any ability to discern its legitimacy; and (2) that since most of them had rejected the real materials, the likelihood was that they would eventually reject the teaching materials and procedures of the genuine school, since they displayed an overwhelming appreciation of the spurious as ‘authentic’.


One of the commonest assumptions among people who only imagine what a real teaching might be, is connected with ‘initiation’.


All over the world you will find people willing and anxious to initiate others into spiritual schools.


But, as the procedure is still preserved among the Sufis, initiation – the pledge of fealty to a teacher – only takes place ‘several years after his admission to the Order of Dervishes’. This is because, until the student knows enough, and until he has learnt something, he cannot truly commit himself to the deep studies. To get him to engage himself to follow a path while he is still not capable of it is a real mark of ignorance and imposture.





On the other hand, someone may be ready to learn and to understand when he is regarded by externalist tests as being quite unsuitable. The great Shibli one day made this very clear, in a story which contains several interesting features.


Shibli announced one day, in Baghdad, that he wanted a thousand dirhams, for shoes for the poor, for the Pilgrimage to Mecca. A certain Christian offered the money, providing that he should be allowed to accompany the caravan.


Shibli told him that only Moslems could make the journey. So the Christian offered to come as a pack-animal: from whom no affirmation of faith was required. So they set off, with the Christian in harness. At each stage he cleared the ground for the pilgrims.


When they arrived at the Great Mosque, Shibli told the Christain that he was not permitted to enter the precincts of the Kaaba. The Christian prayed that he might be allowed to enter. Then a voice was heard, inviting the Christian in . . .


Jumping to conclusions is one of the greatest barriers to learning, though not to actions which make people imagine that they have verified something or made discoveries.





Mulla Nasrudin went one day to a shipyard. Seeing a fire, which he had not expected to be associated with the sea, he asked a workman what it was for.


‘We make tar’ said the other man, ‘and cover the cracks in the underside of the boat. That makes the vessel go faster.’


The Mulla went straight home and made a bonfire. Then he tied up his donkey and melted some tar in a pan. As soon as he brought the smoking tar near the animal, it broke loose and ran like the wind.


‘It works all right’ said Mulla Nasrudin.





By Idries Shah


The Octagon Press

London, 1978



Whoever might perfume a scorpion

Will not thereby escape its sting.


          — Hadrat Bahaudin Naqshband



From Chapter III: The Path and the Duties and Techniques (pp. 82-85)





The Self, called the Nafs, goes through certain stages in Sufi development, first existing as a mixture of physical reactions, conditioned behaviour and various subjective aspirations.

The seven stages of the Self constitute the transformation process, ending with the stage of perfection and clarification. Some have called this process the ‘refinement of the Ego’.

The stages are:


The Commanding Self

The Accusing Self

The Inspired Self

The Tranquil Self

The Satisfied Self

The Satisfying Self

The Purified and Completed Self


Each one of the words given above signifies a major characteristic of the Self in its upward ascent, hence, in Sufi eyes, most people in all cultures are generally familiar only with the first stage of the Self as represented in their ethical systems as something which seeks only its own interests. The ordinary person, staying at the level of ordinary religious and moral teaching, is at the stage which the Sufis would regard as only struggling with the Commanding Self, with, in action, the Accusing Self reproaching itself for its shortcomings. It is because of this scheme that observers styled Sufi development as going five stages beyond that known to the ordinarily ‘Moral’ person.


It cannot be denied that in Sufi eyes the stages of human service, for instance, and concern for others, are regarded as not very great achievements, though lauded to the skies in moralistic-centred systems as almost impossible of attainment. Hence when Saadi says in the 13th century:


All Adam’s sons are limbs of one another,

Each of the self-same substance as his brothers,

So, while one member suffers ache and grief,

The other members cannot win relief.

Thou, who are heedless of thy brother’s pain,

It is not right at all to name thee man . . .

                                                (Gulistan, tr. Brown)


he means that the Sufis, though recognizing its vital importance, still keep the door open for many stages of greater function for humankind. They maintain that to regard human well-being, though essential, as the highest possible, the sublime, achievement of humanity, is to limit oneself so much that it is, effectively, a pessimistic and unacceptably limited stance. Again, the desire for human well-being is the minimum, not the maximum, duty of humanity.


The Commanding Self is the origin of the individual controlled by a composite consciousness, which is a mixture of hopes and fears, of training and imagination, of emotional and other factors, which make up the person in his or her ‘normal’ state, as one would ordinarily call it. It is the state of most of the people who have not undergone the clarification process.


The Accusing Self is the state of the Self when it is able to monitor its behaviour and perceive the secondary nature of so many things formerly imagined to be primary, the actual relativity of assumed absolutes, and so on. This part of the man or woman is both the check on imperfect action and also the area through which the legitimate reproach of others or of the environment gets through to the individual. This is the stage of ordinary conscience. Most people stop and mill around here.


When the depraved or commanding self and the reproaching or accusing selves have done their work, the organ of perception and action becomes susceptible to the entry of perceptions formerly blocked. For this reason it is termed the Inspired Self. In this stage come the first indications, albeit imperfect ones, of the existence and operation of a reliable higher element, force, power or communications system.


Although people have often translated the word Nafs, which we call ‘Self’ here, as ‘soul’, it is in fact not such at all, but what might be called the real personality of the individual. The word for soul is ‘rouh’, spirit.


The so-called lower self, the Nafs, passes through the stages in which it is said to ‘die’, and be transformed. Since it also is held to die on physical death, the phrase for this process is ‘dying before you die’. Hence the death and rebirth cycle takes place in this life instead of being assigned, as in the Hindu model, to supposed literal reincarnation births and deaths.


Attempts to cause the self to operate out of sequence; that is, to receive perceptions when the third stage has not been reached, or to provoke and benefit from mystical experience before the fifth stage, produces the sort of confusion – and sometimes worse – which is reflected in some current literature of experimenters who choose their own sequence of events, and may cause developments which they cannot handle.


It also makes people crazy or nearly so. Many of these imagine themselves to be spiritual teachers, and some of them convince others that they are, too.


The inner psychological problems of people who try to force developments in their psychic life are a matter for clinical, or even experimental, psychology. But there are many who stop short of this, who have not even got to the stage where they realize that their superficial interest in metaphysics bars them from something deeper, and who try exercises mechanically or spasmodically. No wonder they try to store up with emotion.


Some of these are often otherwise quite nice people. They get superficial delusions, because of a rationalizing tendency.





I remember one such, whose supposed mystical career was attributed by him to ‘fate’ for just this kind of reason.


I lived quite near to him, and began to hear that he was passing on messages from an ‘invisible teacher’.


One evening, however, he confessed to me that the teacher did not really exist.


I said: ‘How could you plot such a deception? Lots of people believe you. You must be very unprincipled.’


‘No,’ he said, ‘it is Fate. I have been chosen by a strange and mysterious method. This is how it happened.’


He had written to someone he called a ‘Holy Dervish’ (presumably as distinct from an unholy one) and asked him to come for a visit, to speak to a group of people in his town. He had already informed everyone he could that the great man was coming, when the appointed date arrived with no answer and no dervish. The people collected, and my friend sat on a platform before them, in silence, waiting. When everyone had been there some time, one of the local people stood up and said: ‘I have understood your meaning. The Holy Dervish has not come because he is invisible and you are his representative. We accept you!’


‘Well,’ continued my friend, ‘if that was not me being chosen as a teacher, through the inner working of fate, what is? I could never have planned such a thing!’



(p. 87)



I cannot resist, thinking of ancient formulae, referring to the story of the man with a bushy beard, wearing a rosary around his neck, dressed in a hooded cloak, with long and greasy hair, who was anxious, recently, to tell everyone that he was ‘A Sufi’.


Someone – who really was a Sufi – asked him why he was behaving like that. He said: ‘I am following the instructions and information contained in this ancient handbook for disciples.’


‘But,’ said the real Sufi, ‘that cannot apply now – it was written several centuries ago . . .’


‘That may well be,’ said the new ‘Sufi’, ‘but I only found it last month!’





By Prof. A. Reza Arasteh
Department of Psychiatry School of Medicine
George Washington University, Washington D.C.


First published in Iran in 1965




This volume presents a systematic study of Rumi’s rebirth into a total being. By studying the elements of Persian culture, as well as the unique writings of Rumi, the author reveals the characteristics of maturity, the qualities of final integration in identity, health, and happiness that underlie Rumi’s life and work.




The author has enriched the cultural life of the English-speaking world by presenting the ideas and personality of one of the greatest humanists in such a vivid scholarly fashion… Erich Fromm






From CHAPTER III: The Human Situation and Self-realization (pp. 92-95)


    By 1261, the year he began the Mathnawi, Rumi had already integrated his personality. Having resolved the conflicts in his heart, he now experienced oneness with all. He had undergone rebirth numerous times and easily related himself to humanity, for whom he felt a great concern and desire to guide. At the request of a new bosom friend, Husam al-Din (generally known as Ibn Akhi),1 Rumi interpreted the human situation and the seeker’s path to perfection during his nightly dances. To the accompaniment of the reed,2 Rumi related to Husam al-Din the essence of man’s inward state. This practice continued for about ten years.


1.   Rumi dedicated the Mathnawi to Akhi, whom he referred to as: “My master, stay and support (who holds) the place of spirit in my body and (who is) the treasure of my today and my tomorrow. . .” (Translation: Nicholson, op.cit)


2.   In the Mowlavi order, the reed became the primary musical instrument, as it both symbolized man’s previous unity when he was united with Nature (or even before the creation of the universe in the form of creative force), and the instrument which when joined to the lover’s lips would disclose the way to the Beloved: “It is the comrade of whosoever has lost his union.”



In the six volumes of the Mathnawi, Rumi reveals the innermost activities of man’s soul in quest of certainty. He calls the Mathnawi: “the root of the root of the root of religion in respect to its unveiling of the mysteries of attaining truth and certainty . . . it is as a station and most excellent as a resting place.”1  He now speaks as a guide with none of the emotional instability he revealed in Diwan-e-Shams. In a continuous way he tries to awaken the seekers and bring them out of their present state of disharmony so that they may realize the human situation and regain their harmony. Not only does the Mathnawi explain the human situation in terms of the existing cultural media (forms of communication), but it demonstrates the way of becoming a fully-born man. It thus raises certain questions: What is the human situation as Rumi sees it? What are its forces and tendencies? What is the true way and why?




As the previous section indicated, Rumi believed that man, as a copy of the universe, originated from the non-phenomenal world, and passed through various stages (primarily plant and animal) to his present life, in which he now possesses infinite potentialities. Arising out of the essence which produced the state of oneness, man passed through the state of “he-ness” to become “I-ness.”2  Beneath these veils man’s essence has remained the same, but he must now unveil it to gain a better union with all. He can only attain this end by allowing himself to be born and reborn.


1.   Rumi: Mathnawi, I.


2.   A century after Rumi, Abdul Karim Ibn Ibrahim al-Jili (Gilani) (d. 1406?) systemitized these ideas in a book, Al-Insan al-Kamil Fi Marifati-l awakhir wa’l-awail (The Perfect Man in Knowledge of First and Last Things).


To Rumi man possesses every kind of being in his unconscious. Rumi compares man’s unconscious to the sea, where every kind of animal, plant, and mineral exists. Like a calm sea, the human soul in its depth carries a sample of the whole creation, which we are unaware of and cannot see. Yet a wave may bring some of the sea’s contents to the surface. Though the source of the wave (motivation) may be the same, the natural forces in man can presumably bring to the surface any creature – a sea dragon, snake, plant, or animal, useful or dangerous, or even a precious pearl. Thus, man has potentially inherited a force which can direct him to a bestial state or elevate him. In an evolutionary sense this force has progressed until it has manifested itself in man’s reason. At this stage reason has found itself challenged by man’s animal tendencies; out of its contradictions man must either go beyond reason to attain the state of certainty (Nafs-e-Mutma’inna),1 or fall downward into Nafs-e-Ammara.2  Intuition and the power of spontaneous living comprise the former; evil belongs to the latter. An integrated man possesses Nafs (the natural instinctive force), reason (in the scholastic and Aristotelian sense), intuition, and love.


1. & 2.   In modern psychology Nafs-e-Ammara can be compared to impulses and Nafs-e-Matma’inna to “dynamic insight” as expressed in the writings of Freda Fromm-Reichman.


Indeed, so contradictory is man’s nature that he can rarely harmonize these discordant elements. Disharmony appears most often between the tendencies of Nafs-e-Ammara and reason, reason and Nafs-e-Matma’inna, intuition and reason. Yet ultimately one tendency may come to dominate the others. One might well ask at this point: What kind of character does a man develop when Nafs-e-Ammara becomes dominant, or when reason rules supreme? What happens when the voice of reason fails to give man a satisfactory answer to his existential problem? What happens when the inner voice challenges reason? Rumi takes up all these questions in the Mathnawi, in addition to discussing the corresponding character types which appear in man. He also cites historical examples to arouse man so that he may realize himself.


When the forces of Nafs-e-Ammara dominate, man reacts in a specific way; he pays no heed to God at all, but worships such things as women, other men, and wealth, while neglecting God entirely. At the next stage he worships only God, but if he progresses still further he attains silence, regardless of whether he serves God or not.1


The dominance of Nafs-e-Ammara in man’s situation increases his rational insecurity. Relating one’s self to immediate pleasures encourages regressive tendencies. Nafs-e-Ammara gains its dominance by opposing reason, for in the ontogenetic development of the individual and the history of mankind, reason has appeared when impulses have held the controlling power. Therefore, the path of Nafs-e-Ammara is initially the one of least resistance.


    1.   Rumi, Fihi Ma Fihi.



(pp. 97-100)


In a social sense Nafs manifests itself as the search for power; those who exchange their genuine human character for power, seek immediate pleasure, become servile, or slaves of wealth. The power of Nafs develops in the mind such a craving that a ruler willingly commits inhumane actions to satisfy it. The evil in man’s nature, like a voracious crab, consumes all his humane qualities. Thus, to gain security the power-seekers strive to possess and use power at the expense of their fellow-men. They become a tool of power, wealth, and their carnal desires. Those who want to succeed must fully develop the art of guile and treachery, and act in such a way as to secure more power.


Rumi maintains that Nafs in its regressive tendencies makes its followers slaves of their own life situation. With increased use, Nafs (like lust) gains in strength until it governs the individual’s whole life. Never satisfied, it is like the tasting of salty fish: the more one eats the more he craves water. A man in such a situation finds relief and nullifies his insecurity and suspiciousness by creating fear in others. Out of his own base desires and state of mind, he compels everyone to obey him without question. He expects others to worship him as a leader and god. In the spiritual sense, such a figure creates idols, which he worships and desires so that even indirectly people will relate themselves to him, particularly if his own image is somewhat tainted. He also requires others to relate themselves to him by sacrificing and working for his glory.


In brief, he alienates himself by becoming a means to power, lust, and wealth; in turn, others, in becoming his property, suffer the same fate. Rumi also emphasizes that these vain individuals in their conceit and indulgence in passion become slaves of pleasure without knowing that this thirst derives from self-conceit. Such people permit their self-conceit for an object to increase, with the result that their illness grows. Either power enslaves them, or they humiliate themselves in order to satisfy their pleasure-seeking goals. Habituation to certain pleasures leads to undesirable habits. By pursuing only that which secures their unhealthy situation, these people will gradually alienate themselves from others. To maintain the status quo they become prejudiced, and their prejudice eliminates opposing individuals and their ideas. Here Rumi compares the interpersonal relationship of powerful individuals to those whom they rule, or the divergencies of power between different sects as Jews versus Christians, Muslims versus Zoroastrians, and within each of these. The one who is power-driven destroys his opposition by using fear and other means. For example, he may psychologically relate himself to a dominant leader of the simple people and at the price of blind loyalty may manipulate people so as to attain his selfish goal. Such a man, if in that position, pretends to devote himself to their spiritual aims and convinces them that he can arbitrate and guide their actions. The people, ignorant of his true aims, judge him only outwardly and impart their secrets to him. Their trust in him creates conformity and strengthens his cause. In time he designs plots to divide those of the same faith and creates rivalries among leaders so that they may, in turn, eliminate themselves.


Rumi illustrates this point with the story of a strong-willed vizier who, in the service of a powerful Jewish king, persuaded him to carry out a plan to destroy the Christians. As part of this scheme, the vizier planned to develop an image of himself among the Christians so that he could entirely misguide them. At his own insistence the vizier requested that the King cut off his ears on the pretence that he was a Christian and exile him. In this way the vizier readily gained the confidence of the Christians. In due time he presented to each of the twelve leaders contradictory scrolls, and to each he confided that he was his apostle. One scroll advocated asceticism, another denied it; one stressed trust in God, another declared that it increased doubt; one advocated power, another submission, and so on. After the vizier’s death the other Christian leaders fought so vehemently among themselves that they ultimately destroyed each other and their followers.1


In the Mathnawi and in his Discourses Rumi declares that the genuine scholar therefore must not attach himself to authority, because the gain in material wealth deprives him of independence. Moreover, accepting such gifts from a despot forces the scholar to obey his orders. In such a situation the scholar soon abandons his good qualities for those held by the opposition.2  Rumi further asserts that in the eyes of God man is the culmination of beings. He must not sell himself to anyone; he is an end in himself, and his purpose in life is to decipher himself.


1.  Rumi: Mathnawi, 1. (According to Nicholson, the Turkish Commentators identify this vizier as the apostle Paul; however, Rumi’s main intent is to show the misuse of religion and man.)


2.  Rumi: Fihi Ma Fihi





A collection of gems of wisdom

from the mystical branch of Islam.


By James Fadiman and Robert Frager




From Chapter 4: The Lower Self


Sufism is concerned with the ways of following a spiritual path and with what gets us off track. There is an element in us, the nafs, that tends to lead us astray. This Arabic term is sometimes translated “ego” or “self.” Other meanings of nafs include “essence” and “breath.”


In Sufism, the term nafs is generally used in the sense of “that which incites to wrongdoing.” This includes our egotism and selfishness, our greed and unending desire for more things, our conceit and arrogance. Perhaps the best translation for this part of us is the “lower self.”


The lower self is not so much a thing as a process created by the interaction of the soul and the body. Body and soul are pure and blameless in themselves. However, when our soul becomes embodied, we tend to forget our soul-nature; we become attached to this world and develop such qualities as greed, lust, and pride.


On the spiritual path and in life in general, we all struggle to do those things we clearly know are best for ourselves and others. We often struggle even harder to avoid those actions we know are wrong or harmful.


Why the struggle? If we were of a single mind, there would be no struggle. But our minds are split. Even when we are convinced of what is right, our lower self tries to get us to do the opposite. Even when we see clearly, our lower self leads us to forget.


How the lower self operates, how to understand it, and how to work with it is vital for our soul’s remembering. If we use it to work on ourselves, this material is precious beyond price.




The lower self is continually subject to notions and whims, both in word and deed. Its movements are arbitrary and unreliable; it is in a hurry to fulfill its desires, acting precipitously. Certain sages have likened it, in its fickleness, to a ball rolling giddily down a slope.


However much the lower self makes a show of virtue and attempts to conceal vice, the latter will be hidden only from the shortsighted and the naive, never from those with insight. It is like a hideous old hag who bedecks herself in fancy, dazzling clothes.


The lower self is constantly preoccupied with the virtues of its attributes, contemplating its states with contentment and reverence. It considers important the least thing it has done for anyone, remembering it for years afterward, being overwhelmed by its own kindness. Yet however great the favors others do for it, it places no importance on them, forgetting them quickly. If, by any chance, the lower self should succeed in attaining what it wants, it will still not be satisfied.


The lower self always wants people to obey moral precepts only as it expounds them, to love it more than anything else. The lower self wants others to fear it in all situations, clinging to hope in its mercy, in the same way that God demands these things from His devotees.


In most situations, the outward aspect of the lower self differs from the inward. It praises people in their presence, feigning honesty to their face, while in their absence it does the opposite.


The lower self is obsessed with presenting itself in ways that gain the good opinion of others. This results in its increase of possessions and pride in them, as well as arrogance, self-importance, and contempt. It avoids or ignores whatever people disapprove of, even though these things might please God.





One of the latent vices and secret maladies of the lower self is its love of praise. It continually enjoins a person to put on pretensions, so that people will compliment it. Indeed, there are many worshippers and ascetics who are thus controlled by the lower self.





Those who are controlled by the lower self must serve it; those who control the lower self serve others.


As long as your lower self rules your heart, you will never lose your love of this world.


If you treat your lower self with affection, you will never be saved from it.


One way to train the lower self is to resist its desires. However, if we wish to resist, we know that we must not resist by opposing or suppressing it; for when we do, it will rear up somewhere else, seeking gratification of its desires.





Whatever possessions and objects of its desires the lower self may obtain, it hangs onto them, refusing to let them go out of greed for more, or out of fear of poverty and need.


The lower self does not want anyone to receive anything from anyone else; and if it is aware of someone receiving a special boon, it seeks to destroy it.


A so-called dragon hunter went to the mountains to trap a dragon. He searched the mountains and finally discovered the frozen body of a great dragon in a cave high up one of the tallest peaks. The man brought the body to Baghdad. He claimed he slew the dragon single-handed and exhibited it on the bank of the river. Hundreds of people came to see the dragon. The warmth of the Baghdad sun gradually warmed the dragon’s body, and it began to stir, coming slowly out of its winter sleep. The people screamed and stampeded, and many were killed. The dragon hunter was frozen in fear, and the dragon ate him in a single gulp.


Your lower self is that dragon, a savage, bloody tyrant.

It is not dead, merely frozen.

Keep your dragon in the snow of self-discipline.

Do not transport it to the sunshine of Baghdad.

Let that dragon of yours remain dormant.

Should it be released, it will devour you.




The lower self is like a thief who sneaks into your house at night to steal whatever is valuable and worthwhile. You cannot fight this thief directly, because it will mirror whatever force you bring against it. If you have a gun, the thief will also have a gun. If you have a knife, the thief will have a knife as well. To struggle with the thief is to invite disaster. So, what can you do?
    The only practical solution is to turn on the light. The thief, who is a coward at heart, will then run out. How do we turn on the light? Through the practice of remembrance, awareness, and heedfulness.


Sheikh Tosun Bayrak







By Idries Shah








Academic rigor, journalistic flair


Friday essay: what do the 5 great religions

say about the existence of the soul?


Published: April 15, 2021


Author: Philip C. Almond

Emeritus Professor in the History of Religious Thought

The University of Queensland


A recent survey found almost 70% of Australians believed in or were open to the existence of the soul — meaning they believe we are more than the stuff out of which our bodies are made.


The soul can be defined as the spiritual or non-material part of us that survives death.


Western pop culture is currently bewitched by what happens to us after death with TV shows such as The Good Place and Miracle Workers set largely in the afterlife. And the Disney film Soul depicts the soul of a jazz pianist separating from his earthly body to journey into the afterlife.



Seeking The Divine

Journey of The Soul