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Monday, February 13th, 2006

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7:39p
A Superb Book ...
Wow. I've read a lot of Sufi books over the years (over at LibraryThing I've got the 2nd most Idries Shah books in my catalog, at 28 titles, and those are just the ones he penned), but the vast majority of them are indirect, either simply presenting teaching stories, or hiding gems of info in the midst of "noise". This is the first one that really struck me as being "direct", laying out the how, what and why of Sufi teachings.

Of course, this makes me wonder why this book seems so different from all the other books, and what might be happening with this particular title that is, perhaps, indirect in its seeming directness! Such is the downfall of the student who is working just with texts and without any guide, I suppose (perhaps it is time for me to write a request to The Society for Sufi Studies).

Anyway, Sufi Thought and Action is "An Anthology of Important Papers" assembled by the late great Idries Shah, including an introductory essay by himself. Shah was, by nearly unanimous regard, the "Light of the Age", the foremost Sufi teacher over the past half century. His efforts in publishing legitimate Sufi material (through Octagon Books, the ISHK, the ICR, and Designist Communications, among others) is referenced frequently here as being of major importance.

The book is assembled in nine sections: "Sufi Spiritual Rituals and Beliefs" by Shah, "Sufi Principles and Learning Methods" comprising 7 papers, "Current Sufi Activity" with nine subjects by one author, "Ritual, Initiation and Secrets in Sufi Circles" with 3 author's pieces, each covering 5-7 topics, "Theories, Practices and Training Systems of a Sufi School" by one author, "Key Concepts in Sufi Understanding" comprising of three papers, "Visits to Sufi Centers" with pieces by five authors, "The Sufis of Today" by one author, and "In a Sufi Monastery, and Other Papers" with seven assorted reports. It almost "feels" like Shah had gone back into the archives (I believe that I may have read some of these previously, either in other collections on in the old Designist monograph series) and pulled out the most direct not-beating-around-the-bush papers for this collection. Even topics such as the mundane use of ESP communications by "real Sufis" is addressed off-hand (in the context of attempting to get in touch with "supposed" Sufi teachers), as though this should be no surprise to the reader. Again, it is a remarkably "open" approach for a book from Octagon!

While this book, like most of what I've been reading over the past couple of years, has spent a decade or more on my shelf (it was published in 1990), it has the advantage of being from ISHK/Octagon, and so is still very much in print. However, this does mean that if you want to get a copy you're going to have to dig deeper than is often the case on the things I'm reviewing. You can get a good used copy for around $3.50, but a new one will set you back $22.00 (for a 280-page paperback).

I don't know if this would be something that I'd recommend for an introductory book on Sufi teachings, but if you've read some Sufi materials and were more confused than enlightened by that reading, I would definitely recommend checking out Sufi Thought and Action!


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