Sufism For Western Seekers * Stewart Bitkoff (2011)

Abdel Wahid Yahia died in Cairo in 1951. Most of us will know this man better under his birth- and authors name René Guénon. Guénon was the major Traditionalist thinker hammering on the fact that a genuine initiation can only go through a “filiation”, an unbroken chain. In the West there are only two genuine esoteric orders left, both in decline. Perhaps this is the reason that Guénon opted for the Sufi path, the near Eastern esoteric Tradition. I find myself thinking about this sometimes. When the Western esoteric organisations might still be able to ‘do the trick’, but no longer understand what it is what they actually do, would there be real Sufism in the West to take over the task? Guénon probably did not leave France for nothing, but there are Sufi orders in the West. Would these groups just be mystical Muslims taking the name of Sufism or genuine esoteric orders in which religion is subsidiary?
Then I got an email of Stewart Bitkoff if I was interested in reviewing his new book “Sufism For Western Seekers; Path of the Spiritual Traveler In Everyday Life”. Sure I was! Of course I am preoccupied having read Guénon and other Traditionalists and on receiving this book I immediately noticed it is nothing like the heavy literature from the ‘Traditionalist school’. In fact, would the book be Traditionalist at all? In a ‘Guénonian’ sense it should be, but like I said, I am preoccupied. Bitkoff describes how he met a colleague at a hospital that he worked at and during lunch times Bitkoff and a varying group of colleagues had ‘classes’ of this first “mystical school” from the master/colleague. This goes on for about four years after which the author is directed to his second “mystical school” where he received some 10 years of long distance training, mostly involving reading books of Idries Shah (1924-1996), the Sufi teacher of our time. Like Bitkoff’s first teacher (whom he calls “Sam”) Shah stresses the fact that Sufism predates Islam and that it is the path to become a whole person and thus a better Muslim, Christian or Jew. (This) Sufism does not make the student leave society for study, but requires serious involvement in society, helping others. The book is presented as conversations between Bitkoff and a teacher (alternated with anecdotes). First this teacher seems to be “Sam”, later it becomes more likely that Bitkoff is talking “to self” as he would put it, his ‘higher Self’ in the terms of others. The tone is light and down-to-earth and what is presented is more of a general spiritual nature than information about the Sufi order. The second half becomes a bit more specific on methods and teachings, but overall I think I hoped for something deeper and dryer, while the book seems more focussed on people unacquainted with spiritual teaching in general and esoteric training in particular. But does the book suggest that the author was initiated in a genuine esoteric order (as I understand it from my previous literature)? The fact that his “first mystical school” was in an office rather than a ‘temple’ (or whatever) seems a bit odd, but of course when “Sam” has Guénon’s “sacred fluidium”, he should be able to pass it on in a mental hospital too, right? The students appear to receive “the Light” on several occasions, is that the ‘passing of the fluid’, the ‘initiation’ that ‘opens the third eye’? That can happen only once I take it. The word “initiation” Bitkoff uses not in a Traditionalistic, but more in the profane way of ‘getting acquainted with’ (e.g. on page 32). “Sam” can “direct the Light to each of us and we would experience it” (p. 89/90). This “[…] offered [a] state that would stay with me for 24 hours and was God’s present; it was an initiatory carress to lift me higher and teach me something.” (p. 94) “Sam” “was given the authority to teach” (p. 97) from a person long dead (what about the “filiation”?). He sure had something special: “It was as if Sam had some magical key which he used to unlock the door to my spiritual being.” (p. 102) “Also he was versed in all religions and understood every occult practice that I ever heard about.” (p. 106) About the Light, the teacher says on page 129: “The internal or spiritual essence, which gives life to the external religious form, is a living, vibrant element. This part, termed the Light in our presentation, is the inner core of life to the eternal form.” On page 156 the author says: “This initial caress, felt in the heart, is an initiation by the Master into the mystical school” which sounds more familiar in the context of my earlier literature. Also: “this learning must occur under certain conditions” (p. 157) could have been a quote of Guénon.
Conclusion from this uninitiated interested fellow? Couldbemaybe. I am sure that Bitkoff had a flying start in his spiritual development with his meetings with the colleague. Is this book about a regular, initiatic order? Not unlikely, but neither obviously. So should I go out and look for some Sufi master? I have no idea is this “Sam” is a representative Western Sufi, but he might well be of a modern-day initiate. I can only hope to run into such a person again and continue what I started.
2011 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 0615562809

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