There was quite a bit of Truth in Idries Shah’s message. First, it concerned the human mind – its conditionality, manifestations of ego, methods of thinking, processing and perception of information. To the carrot of Tradition and evolution was attached a stick – to that part of the message where the state of mind of the modern man was described. Very accurately, and with quite a bit of sarcasm, the reader’s ego and mind are laid bare before him, his living and making decisions according to old, worn stereotypes. In order to strengthen the effect, Sufis were contrasted to ordinary people, and there was something in that comparison that provoked a quite perceptible discomfort in the reader. The stick operated rather well – in my youth, while reading Shah’s latest text, I would sometimes catch myself in a feeling of my total insignificance. I know that many other readers experienced the same feeling. To be sure, there were those who did not feel anything like this, but either they regarded themselves as Sufis, or they read the books not for the purpose of discovering the truth for themselves, but rather for intellectual entertainment.
The wish not to experience discomfort from awareness of one’s own imperfection may also become a stimulus leading a person to the Way. The dissatisfaction emerging from such discomfort quite enables this. But Shah so strongly and clearly indicated people’s imperfection, and simultaneously, the perfection of the Sufis, that the gap seemed insurmountable, especially because he did not propose any concrete ways to become a Sufi.
Here the usual mystery appears before us. A Teacher comes who brings Knowledge – about Sufism, Tradition, evolution – but the information given by him does not have a practical part. Shah does mention Sufi methods of teaching more than just once or twice, but he does not cite any of them and does not provide references to texts where one could read about them. What he gives is the preparatory part where some principles of teaching are explained, but does not get to the point. Why bring knowledge which does not have practical application or can be applied only under certain conditions? Shah provides a lot of theoretical knowledge – how groups degenerate and how the Work changes; about imitators and false teachers; and how one has to learn how to learn… And that information is quite useful. But we do not encounter any descriptions of practices from him and his texts break off exactly in the place where he should speak of the concrete methods by which the ordinary person could become a Sufi. Here a gap emerges – on the one hand, Shah declares the existence of the opportunity for development and claims that it is simply necessary to people, and on the other hand, he leaves unrevealed the most important question: how to become Sufis? We do not receive from him any indications – only mentions of Sufi methods of teaching and parables as illustrative and educational material.