|... Doris Lessing writes: I met Idries Shah because of The Sufis,
which seemed to me the most surprising book I had read, and yet it was
as if I had been waiting to read just that book all my life. It is a cliché
to say that such and such a book changed one's life, but that book changed
mine. That was in 1964. It is a book that gives up more of itself every
time you read it, and this is true of his other books, which all together
make up a phenomenon like nothing else in our time, a map of Sufi living,
learning, thinking. If I emphasise the books, it is because they are the
evident legacy of this man's life, and available to anyone. He used to
say he had never been asked a question whose answer is not in his books.
He was a good friend to me, and my teacher. It is not easy to
sum up 30 odd years of learning under a Sufi teacher, for it has been a
journey with surprises all the way, a process of shedding illusions and
preconceptions. One way of putting it could be that it brings to life the
familiar words, the set phrases, the "labels" used by all the mystics.
Shah remarked that "God is Love" can be words scrawled on a placard carried
by an old tramp in the street, or the revelation of the greatest truth,
with a thousand changes of meaning in between, and it is the thousand changes
that are the experience of the learner.
In one aspect of his life he was a bridge between cultures, like
his father the Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah, at home in the East and the West.
Shah was brought up as a Sunni Moslem. Not the least of his contributions
to our culture has been to let us hear in this time of the wild Moslem
extremism, the voice of moderate and liberal Islam.
He was a many-sided man, knowing a great deal about a variety
of subjects, and that meant that listening to him was an education in more
ways than one. He was the wittiest person I expect ever to meet. He was
kind. He was generous. He would not like these encomiums, for he was a
modest man, saying, in the Sufi phrase, "Don't look so much at my face,
but take what is in my hand." He meant, "I am offering you something unique,
take advantage of it."
He did not admire the sometimes tricky and flashy ways of our
culture. "I am an old-fashioned man," he might say, linking himself with
more honourable times.
I can think of no other person of whom I could say, simply, he
was honourable, and be understood, by people who knew him, exactly in the
sense I mean it: here was someone whose standards and values were far from
what we are used to now.
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