There are no doubts that Idries Shah studied with Sufis and himself was one of them. Moreover, he possessed an outstanding intellect and therefore, possibly, took upon himself the mission of introducing a new view of Sufism in the West. Or the creation of a new version of Sufism, suitable for Western people. Or to be more precise, the creation of a demand for this new version, the description of which he introduced widely and promoted. For the fulfillment of this task, Sufis needed to be independent of Islam. Thus the history of the Tradition appears, which existed long before Islam and was the heart of all religions. In order to lend the new version greater significance, the mystery is emphasized, and Sufism is presented as the only source of possible human evolution.
Here is a quotation from The Sufis: “The Sufis believe that in some sense humankind is developing, striving toward a certain goal. We all take part in this development. Organs appear in response to the need in existence for such special organs (Rumi). In accordance with such a need, the human organism develops a new complex of organs. In our time of the overcoming of time and space, that complex is also occupied with overcoming time and space. What ordinary people consider separate and accidental manifestations of telepathic or prophetic powers, Sufis view as the first signs of activity of precisely these organs… How to develop these organs? By the methods of the Sufis. How can we know that we are developing them? Only with the help of experience.” Further follows a beautiful phrase about how experience obtained on the Sufi Way is impossible to convey with words, and this is repeated constantly in various places of the text.
Here Shah promises direct physical change of the human organism, interpreting evolution almost literally, in the spirit of Darwinism. It is quite a strange idea, but a mysterious and even disturbing image. In later books, it is developed further, when Shah began to present the Sufis as nearly super-people, but we will speak of that later. Nevertheless, I know of people who to this day contemplate the location and action of the “organs” mentioned by Shah, trying to detect them in themselves. Thus mysteriousness and innuendo provide fodder for searches that at times are impossibly silly.
In order for desire to arise, a person has to be told what he could strive for. And be told in such a way that he will want what is being offered. On that principle is based all modern advertising, and spiritual teachers work according to it as well. You can’t want what you have never heard of, but you will not want to acquire things or states in which there is nothing attractive for you. Buddha, as we know, sold freedom from suffering; Gurdjieff sold the ability to rule your life; Ivanov sold health, and Shah sold the ability to develop a human into some kind of higher creature. This was also accompanied by an wonderful addition in the form of Tradition that stores and transmits Knowledge, affiliation with which enables you to imbue your actions with the highest meaning and come close to feeling yourself chosen.
Can you succeed in the dissemination of your ideas without resorting to such enticements? Likely, you can. But the carrot must always be promised, such is human nature; after all, no one can begin a search of the Way without the most banal desires, like acquiring immortality, power, bliss and so on. If your purpose is to create in society a demand for a new teaching, for a new Way, then exaggeration, mystery and tempting promises must be included in its description. It’s another matter that most often the people who pounce on such things are those for whom following the Way is beyond their capacity, but that is one of the inevitable consequences of such Work, so to speak.
Osho said that at the very start of his work with people, he tried to give them the Truth in pure form. In his words, they were made nauseous from it. They were not capable of “digesting” the information and energy received. Then he began to dilute it with a pleasant lie, and then when only just a little Truth remained, people began to gradually assimilate at least something. I totally believe this story of his, because I myself repeatedly encountered the fact of how unreceptive unprepared people are for the truth about themselves, and all the more so as to the Truth itself. Therefore to “sell” people the Truth is useless: in the state in which they are in their ordinary lives, Truth cannot seem attractive to them.
Here mystics must do whatever they can at least to somehow attract their attention to their message. Or start with the most simple and obvious truths, in order to gradually, in the process of work on themselves, people can mature to an understanding and perception of truth that is far higher. But you cannot build a message on simple truths, because in the last couple of thousand years, they were all used by mystics working before us, and have become too customary and “hackneyed.” Other truths, which are assimilated more or less easily are too petty to build anything on them. Thus the bearers of messages must think up ever new means of attracting people’s attention, sometimes giving them deliberately false information. It is hard to say how much in this case the end justifies the means, but in order to awaken the sleeping, likely one may shout “Fire!” and that will help someone. In any case, not a single message can stand exclusively on a lie or on exaggerations; otherwise, it is not a message at all.