Monday, 28 May 2012

Idries Shah's successor

“A year before my father died, he sat me down in a quiet corner of his garden. We shared a pot of Darjeeling tea and listened to the sound of a pair of wood pigeons in a nearby tree. I poured a second cup of tea. As I was putting the strainer back on its holder, my father said: 'Some time soon I will not be here any more. My illness has reached another phase. I can feel it.'

“I sat there, touched with sadness. I didn't say anything because I could not think of anything appropriate to say.

“'When I am not here,' my father continued, 'some people we have always trusted will betray us. Beware of this. Others will stand forward as true friends, people who were in the shadows before. Many more will ask who I left as my successor. They will hound you, asking for a name. It is important that you tell them that my successor is my printed work. My books form a complete course, a Path, and they succeed when I cannot be there.'”

~ Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights, New York: Bantam Dell. pp. 215-6. See:

There is now an official page for Idries Shah at Facebook, maintained by the Estate of Idries Shah, and you can follow @IdriesShah at Twitter. A new official web site, The Idries Shah Foundation, has now gone live, and there's a new article about The Idries Shah Foundation at Wikipedia.

See also:

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+


  1. I have most of IS's books and treasure their content.

    1. Hi there, Idries Shah had quite an impact on my own life and I am deeply grateful.

  2. I too can hardly overestimate the extent to which Shah's writings has influenced my behaviour and thinking over the years. One feels privileged and grateful to have been allowed to glimpse the existence of this work.

    I do wonder, however, what he meant by "My books form a complete course, a Path, and they succeed when I cannot be there".

    If, by complete, we mean that which allows the practicioner to achieve completeness as a human being, then Shah's written corpus can, I imagine, not make such a claim. His work is peppered with the sensible assertion that the Human Exemplar is necessary in order to properly structure the effort. Study of written materials is, he asserted, a necessary preparation for aligning oneself with a real teaching situation.

    But, since the 'Work' (whatever that means) is perennial, one has to ask, what, if any, current means exists for aligning oneself with a source of practical teaching in today's world.

    Furthering and preserving his body of work is certainly a tempting thing to involve oneself in: it is however just the kind of activity which can lead to cultism and the formation of derivative forms of activity despite the concerns about imitators using the work selectively is it not?

    Comments would be most welcome.

    1. Many thanks for your ideas, Bob, and for taking the time to comment and get in touch.

      Shah's death in 1996 left many people wondering what to do next, and the standard reply from the Estate of Idries Shah, Octagon Press, The Institute for Cultural Research (ICR, London; now The Idries Shah Foundation) and The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge (IHSK, USA) was "Shah said keep reading the books" and "Shah said that the answer to one's questions are in the books".

      The statement about Shah's successor, via his son Tahir Shah, raises issues, as you suggest, since Shah repeatedly said that a living teacher is required, and this appears to sit uneasily with the assertion that the books form a complete course and succeed when he cannot be here.

      In spite of what Shah says about reading the books, we do from time to time go round in circles and ask questions that, though they may be answered in the books, still require explanation and assistance, or chapter and verse to find the relevant passages in the large corpus of books. These are the sort of things that we've discussed over the years since Shah's death at such forums as the usenet newsgroup alt.sufi; the yahoo! groups Caravansarai ("...sarai") and The Tenth Donkey; and more recently at the Facebook group The Caravanserai ("...serai").

      You can find the Facebook group The Caravanserai here:

      Thanks again. With good wishes,
      Eric T.

    2. ... There are of course other teachers out there, such as Arif Ali-Shah (who succeeded Omar Ali-Shah), AH Almaas, Alfredo Offidani (etc) but most do not fit the many criteria that Shah laid down about true and false teachers, and those close to Shah have warned against involvement with some. I sometimes wonder if the only person that would meet Shah's criteria was Shah himself. :)

    3. These questions have perplexed me too, and recently something struck me about them. In "The Sufis", there's an encounter reported by Shah in which a Western seeker asks an Eastern teacher how to proceed. The teacher says, among other things, that people come to the path with preconceived notions of where to find a teacher, and what a teacher looks like. He says that a teacher is anybody or anything you learn from. If you're being a student, then whatever or whoever you're learning from is a teacher for you at that moment. If you learn to pay better attention by stumbling over a stone in the path, then that stone has been your teacher.

      Then it hit me that we can take what the books say about finding teachers and being a student in this light. If the world plus certain attitudes constitute the school, then if we behave properly as students, perhaps one could say that whatever or whoever we learn something from is our teacher. Sufis have credited cats, dogs, butterflies, trees, garbagemen (dustmen), cooks, and all manner of other things and people with being their teachers. Given this, all the material about being a student and behaving correctly toward a teacher etc can be applied to learning from any source. At the end of the story of the Initiation of Malik Dinar, the old dervish tells the protagonist, "Now you will find that you are able to learn from experience", and moves on. How about that.

      Finally, it seems to me that we're intended to become fully complete. So, if we assemble the right experiences, attitudes, and so on, as well as removing impediments, then wouldn't we be most likely to naturally make the right connections and attain the developments we hope for? There is a "principle" or dynamic in us that works toward that. It's not all stacked against us - we are designed to reach the destination, like an acorn is designed to become an oak and a caterpillar is designed to become a butterfly.

      Maybe we've been assuming that having a personal teacher (to take care of us and usher us along) is a clear-cut and official state of affairs, when it's actually just a temporary and perhaps remedial stage for slow learners or primitives or something. (Which is most of us!) I wonder if, in some recent books by people we know about, some of the experiences described are partly teaching occurring under our noses, but not labeled as such, so we bleep over it. Shah's teaching stories and anecdotes have examples of even that sort of thing.

      I can't begin to understand how Shah or anybody could have written those books. They seem to be almost miraculous in their ability to describe and predict every kind of experience you can encounter related to higher study (as well as much of the rest of life), giving us mental and extra-mental patterns that enable us to recognize elements and put them together so as to make progress. They don't *make* you learn, but if you are approaching learning sincerely and approaching things in the right way, they somehow interact with your mind to *help* you learn, usually later rather than on the spot!

      These are some thoughts I have had about this issue. Probably incomplete, but they make sense to me. At least putting things into words seems to help digest them. I am sharing them here in the hope that they will be helpful to somebody else, as well.

    4. May I add my experience to Bruce's illuminating reply - which chimes with my journey.

      Simply looking at the ideas of a 'living teacher' and 'Human Exemplar' being necessary for the student on the Path:

      'Human Exemplar' in Sufi terms, I believe, does not mean the appearance and literality of the human species/form - but rather a 'Perfected Man' who can assume any form needed by the student. So as Bruce said:

      'In "The Sufis", there's an encounter reported by Shah in which a Western seeker asks an Eastern teacher how to proceed. The teacher says, among other things, that people come to the path with preconceived notions of where to find a teacher, and what a teacher looks like. He says that a teacher is anybody or anything you learn from.'

      This appearance of the Master in the form needed by the student is then the 'living teacher', manifested in the student's life.

      Many years ago my best friend [excluding my wife :), who is my best best friend] and I shared our joy in the Idries Shah materials. Our friendship fell apart because he insisted on looking for a Master in the form expected in the human species. We had both shared a 'Master' before , who although greatly beneficial for a few years, then became counter-produtive; this Master, by the criteria of Idries Shah, would be a false one. My friend now insisted on continuing to look for a ‘true’ master outside.

      I am a psychotherapist and near the end I gave my friend a session in which he connected to his inward life. In this inner life he saw that his 12 year daughter was going to die. My friend refused to carry on with the session. Afterwards I explained that the daughter he saw inside was a manifestation of his inner feminine (not necessarily to be confused with the literal daughter outside) and we should explore this inner spiritual feminine further. He refused.

      This friend was literal in looking for a Master (not only in human species form, but necessarily outside) and terrified of the inner spiritual life - only willing to focus on externals. He then excluded me from his life entirely after a spiritual friendship which had spanned 10 years. For the most part he subsequently turned to orthodox Islam. He had concluded that I was false to him - and it is probably true that that I had become wrong for him at that time.

      To come back to the point: my experience is that many of us fall by the wayside because we are literal in our approach to ‘Reality’ – fixated on externals rather than on revealed inner/metaphorical meaning. The latter for me has been a difficult skill to work with, and is an ongoing effort.

    5. Many thanks for your thoughts, Bruce and Rewdan.

  3. I would offer the Teaching Ideas as they were presented by Bob Gibson no longer on the planet but his lectures are available in transcription and I can further elaborate on them. Not meaning to present myself as a "Teacher " as the content is what is of value , not so the container...
    The question is a living Teacher necessary is age old...
    Ideas which are true and can be worked with are definitely necessary...
    The Teachings I refer to have the advantage of being presented in " plain English ". unlike much of the writings on the subject.
    Of course they will only resonate or " ring true " for one who needs to hear them ....
    Best wishes to all seekers...
    Jacques Bessin

    1. Thanks a lot, Jacques, I haven't heard of Bob Gibson before. I'll have to look him up.

      With good wishes,

  4. I would simply recommend going to " Marsha Summers studies of the inner being "as she has transcribed just about all the lectures that were taped and it is the Teaching from " the horses mouth " without the commentaries and interpretations that can so easily cloud the simplest ideas...
    I will also purchase some of your books , as I had not come across them before.
    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks for the lead, Jacques, and for your kindness.

      With good wishes,

  5. It is possible to think in a successor? What thats mean "a successor"? A successor of Idries Shah or a successor of the theaching? For me both possible answers haves no sense. Life continues! - posted by Jorge Lupin

  6. All soups have lumps in it, Shah said. No one has ever found his or her teacher by following those rules (featured in many books published by Octagon). Other true keys for that are hidden both in Shah's works, and others.