Twenty-Three Study Points – Idries Shah

May I have any brief aphorisms or statements which I can register and study,  which will help to progress on the Sufi  path?

 If you are not a viable unit in the ordinary world, you will not become one elsewhere. If you have a poor capacity for making human  contacts, we cannot offer you the substitute of a community where  ‘we understand one another’. That belongs to play-life, what some, of course, generally call real life.

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If you are accustomed to being supported and kept  going by social, psychological and other  pressures in the everyday world, there is a sense in which you do not really exist at all. The people who collapse in the often  unpressured-dervish atmosphere and who slack,  become  tiresome to others, or seek to attract or obtain attention:  they  will  fall to pieces and one cannot help  them.

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Try to remember; and, if you cannot remember, try to become familiar with this idea:
Lots of people who imagine that  they are with us because  they are physically present, or because by the ordinary tests (feelings of loyalty, indoctrination) are ostensibly  present, lots of those people are not effectively  here at all.  If you are one of those people,  there is nothing we can do for you.  If you are like an ordinary  person:  that is, if you have the tendency to “be here” only for limited and primitive amusement, but have it only as a tendency and not a way of life:  then we can perhaps make some progress.

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Remember  that the human  being is so intensely standardised  that an outside  observer,  noting his reactions to various stimuli, need not infer an individual controlling brain in each  person. He would be more  likely to infer the existence of a separate,  outside brain, and the people as mere manifesters of its will.

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Register the fact that:
Virtually all organisations known to you work largely by means of your greed. They attract you because what they say or do appeals to your greed. This is concealed  only by their appearance. If you stop listening to their  words and look at the effect, you will soon see it.

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Remember  that  greed  includes greed for being not greedy.  So, if someone says:  “Do not be greedy, be generous”, you may inwardly  interpret this in such a manner that you will develop a greed for generosity. This,  however, remains greed.

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There are some  things which you  have to do for yourself. These  include  familiarising  yourself  with study-materials given to you. You can only really do this-and  thus acquire real qualities — if you suspend the indulgence of desire for immediate satisfactions.

* * *

All members of contemporary societies, with few exceptions, are in need of graduating  from  primitive morality to a higher one. The primitive one is the one which  tells you, like a child, that honesty will make you happy,  make you successful, get you to higher things.
Honesty, you may now be informed, is essential as an instrument, not to be worshipped as a seldom-attained emotion-loaded ideal.

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Sufis  have  their own methods of deterring unsuitable people. You may only know one or two ways. Pay attention to the techniques which, for instance, deter by compelling  people to conclude that they are worthless.
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What you may take to be attractive, or even  spread out by us to be attractive to you, may well not be intended in this manner at all.  That  which  attracts  you, or others,  about us may be that which is laid  down by us as a tool  which  enables us to regard you (or others) as unsuitable.

* * *

One can give or withhold in a manner far more  effective, sophisticated,  useful, which is quite  invisible to people who think that  giving or withholding is done by external assessment. If you seek some mark of favour or “promotion”,  know  that you are not ready for it. Progress comes  through  capacity to learn, and is irresistible.  Nobody can stand  between you and knowledge if you are fit for it.

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Anybody or anything may stand  between you and knowledge if you  are unfit for it.

* * *

You can learn more in half an hour’s direct contact with a source of knowledge (no matter the apparent reason for the contact or the subject of the transaction) than you can in years of formal  effort.

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You can learn and equip yourself with latent  knowledge,  whose development  comes at a later  stage.  Only those who insist upon instant attention want anything else.

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The role of the teacher is to provoke capacity in the student, to provide what there is when it will be useful, to guide him towards progress.  It is not to impress, to give an impression of virtue, power, importance, general  information,  knowledge or anything else.

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Systematic  study or behaviour is valuable when it is of use. When it is not, it can be poisonous.

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Those who seek  consistency as a major factor, in people or in study  materials, are seeking system at a stage where it is not indicated.  Children and savages do this, when they ask for information  which will explain or make possible  “everything”.Consistency is, however, on offer from those people whose  business it is to offer comfort and reassurance as objectives.

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If you seek illumination or understanding  when what you really need is information or rest from pressures, you will get none of these  things. If you know what you want, you should go and get it.

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If you carry the habit of judging things into an area where it does not apply, you will judge in a manner which will not correspond with your needs.

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You cannot work on a higher level entirely with the concepts, language and experiences of a lower level. Higher  level work is in a combination of manners and relationships.

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The ultimate absurdity, incapacitating from real  learning beyond the stage you have reached, is to imagine that one thing is another. If you think  that a book is a sandwich, you may try to eat it, and will not be able to learn what a book can teach. If, too, you imagine that you are being  ‘open’ or ‘working” or eager to learn when you are only playing a  social  game, you will  learn nothing. The people who refuse to play  that  game  with you will also, of course, sooner or later annoy you.

* * *

Human  organisations can take two forms:  entities  which are set up to express or attain the aspirations of their members; and those  which exist in order to acquire or provide something which is needed. Wants and needs are not the same. The difference is in information. If people know  what they need, they do not have to confuse wants with needs.

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If you do not know already the difference  between  opinion and fact, you can study it in the daily and weekly  newspapers.

– Idries Shah, Learning How To Learn

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