Quotes from "The Commanding Self"

by Idries Shah

Nowadays, few people contest the importance of knowing about conditioning in order to examine belief-systems. Why, therefore, is it so difficult to communicate with so many people along these lines? The answer is very simple. We are at a stage in understanding human behaviour analogous to that which obtained when people began to try to talk of chemistry to those who were fixated upon the hope of untold wealth (or, sometimes, spiritual enlightenment) through alchemy. Like the alchemist or those who want easy riches, people want dramatic inputs (emotional stimuli, excitement, reassurance, authority-figures and the rest) rather than knowledge.

It is only when the desire for knowledge and understanding becomes as effective as the craving for emotional stimulus that the individual becomes accessible to change, to knowledge, to more than a very little understanding.

So learning must be preceded by the capacity to learn. THAT, in turn, comes about at least in part by right attitude. And THAT, again, is where the would-be learner has to exercise effort.

From 'The Commanding Self ' Idries Shah


Surely there is not, cannot be, any better proof of imagination confused with real experience, than something which happened to me during a tour of holy places in the Middle East.

I was with a party of very devout people belonging to a certain faith, we need not say which one. They were visiting places reputed for their spiritual history and atmosphere, mostly belonging to another religious tradition.

Their guide was new to the job. To help matters, he read in detail from a Michelin guide as we went from place to place. 'Here martyrs were killed.... Here is the site of the cell of a certain holy monk .... Here such-and-such a person had a holy vision ....'

Every single time the devotees stood respectfully, showing every sign of appreciating the deep spiritual feelings which suffused the places ....

Then, one day, we were taken to a site where the guide read out about the horrors which had been perpetrated there, how a certain tyrant had murdered scores of good men of God, and how the whole area was reputed to be cursed. All shivered and eagerly discussed how they felt the 'very essence of evil' surrounding them.

They were still exchanging accounts of their own bloodcurdling experiences at the hotel that evening when the guide shamefacedly called us together in the foyer and admitted that he had been mistakenly reading from the wrong page. In spite of the 'very essence of evil' which all had experienced, we had in fact been standing in the middle of a burial-place of saints ....

From 'The Commanding Self ' Idries Shah