Thursday, 31 December 2015

Perhaps “no one will live who still remembers it” ~ Wouter Hanegraaff

If there is one blog post that I would recommend to fellow freethinkers, it is “Perspective 2016” by Wouter Hanegraaff. It really is one of my all-time favourites.

Hanegraaff is full professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam, and was President of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) from 2005 to 2013.

In this excellent and timely, and yet also timeless, essay – which will resonate with many who are acquainted with that other mystical tradition, the Sufi Way and the writings of Idries Shah – Hanegraaff writes:

“The world is changing. At this end of the year, with Christmas coming up and a New Year just around the corner, I feel a need to gain some perspective on what is happening all around us, and how it is affecting our very ways of thinking, our very ways of living, our very conceptions of what is possible, our very expectations of where we are going, and most importantly, our very ways of imagining where we should be going ...”

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Escape From the Shadowlands, and Game of Aeons – Free Ebooks

Two ebooks, Escape From the Shadowlands, and Game of Aeons: A short novel, are free for a limited time.

You can download the books using the direct links below, from our web site:

MAY 2017 UPDATE: You can download copies of ALL the books from here on our web site. Although marked as "review copies", there are no strings attached.

Enjoy, and have a great summer!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Sufi Mystics: Ancient Wisdom for Dire Modern Times

The Sufis paperback book cover 2015
Just over fifty years ago, in 1964, the writer, thinker and Sufi teacher Idries Shah’s major work, The Sufis, was published. Writer and later winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2007, Doris Lessing, writing in The Washington Post, described the work as “a seminal book of the century, even a watershed,” and the poet Ted Hughes wrote that “the Sufis must be the biggest society of sensible men on Earth.” Men and women, that would be. At the time of his death, in November 1996, Shah’s thirty-or-so books on travel, philosophy, psychology and spirituality had sold over 15 million copies in a dozen languages worldwide.

Although others had come before Shah, such as the Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan, at the time Shah wrote his first work popularising the subject, the Sufi Way was largely unknown outside of specialist academic and Sufi circles. The closest many had come to Sufism would possibly be to have read the tales in One Thousand and One Nights, which were actually of Sufic origin and designed to surreptitiously convey certain teachings and survive through their popularity.

Many of Shah’s books have teaching tales scattered throughout them, or are collections of such tales, which have multiple layers of meaning that can be revealed like the layers of an onion, rather than the simple morals that we have become accustomed to in the West, via the likes of Aesop. Some, such as the tales of the folksy philosopher and wise fool, Nasrudin, use humour as a vehicle.

According to the Sufis, a wholly scholastic or logical approach to study, or closed thinking, is restrictive and ill-advised, and this is preserved in one of Nasrudin’s jokes:

Nasrudin, ferrying a pedant across a piece of rough water, said something ungrammatical to him. “Have you never studied grammar?” asked the scholar.
“Then half of your life has been wasted.”
A few minutes later Nasrudin turned to the passenger. “Have you ever learned how to swim?”
“No. Why?”
“Then all your life is wasted—we are sinking!”

What the Sufis advocate instead, as correctives, are the development and use of perception and intuition, and learning a practical skill which they technically term “swimming”. One of the aims is to awaken what Shah terms our vestigial organs of higher perception, which will help us in our quest toward Truth.

The Sufis talk of finding a hidden treasure of inestimable worth, but since it is buried under a mountain of misbelief and conditioning, a lot of digging has to be undertaken first, a preliminary phase which Shah refers to as learning how to learn. To use an organic metaphor: first of all, the ground has to be cleared of dead wood, undergrowth and weeds before the seeds can be planted; then the seeds are watered and grow out of the ground, and into the air, to be warmed by the sun; and finally they come to fruition and may be harvested. The Sufi materials help clear the ground and scatter those seeds, in the mind and heart of the seeker, and the teacher provides the “water”.

Or, to put it another way (as the Sufis so often do), imagine a princess locked in a dungeon and placed under guard. That is our common plight. It is possible to use the Sufi stories to smuggle hidden messages to the princess, who represents our heart or a higher part of us, via those unsuspecting and greedy guards – guards who are equally a part of our own makeup. By establishing a common language and a secret dialogue, messages can in turn be smuggled out about the princess’ plight. To cut a long and involved story short, by such means, the princess can be freed from the dungeon and regain her rightful place.