The line in the titles that the author sends me to review seems to go from very specific (Sufism) to more general. Perhaps they should be read in reverse order. “The Appleseed Journal” is more ‘generally spiritual’, a story that may make the reader realise that there is more than just our materialistic lifestyle. Then in “Beyond The River’s Gate” the reader may be inspired to live more spiritually may be helped to find a fitting path. In “The Ferryman’s Dream” you will learn more about Bitkoff and his own path. Finally, in “Sufism For Western Seekers” the reader will discover the secret of Bitkoff’s background. But, the books came from the man’s fingers the other way around, so that is the order in which I review them.
Johnny Appleseed is a ‘legendarised’ man who lived under the name John Chapman from 1774 to 1845. Bitkoff places him in the area of the Hudon Valley and to the North, which is funny, since I happen to visit that area every now and then myself. Bitkoff found Appleseeds journal buried in his backyard and decided to publish it. Now the journal obviously is not written 250 years ago and the style if very ‘Bitkoffian’. No worries of course, the author just used an urban legend as the story to hang his message onto.
Appleseed is a very Christian person who, as an early settler, started to grow and sow appleseeds and sell them to new settlers so that they could have their own apple trees. In his diary he gives his Christian ponderings about his restlessness, helping other people and the Word of the Lord. During his journeys through the Hudson Valley, Appleseed becomes friends with ‘Amerindians’ from whom he learns a lot. Bitkoff of course uses the opportunity to give some ‘Amerindian’ spirituality to his audience. At some point, Appleseed received a book of “the Great Swede”, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) and became gripped by what he reads. He got involved in “The New Church” movement and both accidentally and intentionally becomes a missionary for the Swedenborgian way of thinking in his many contacts. We do not learn that much about Swedenborgh or his ideas from this journal though.
Appleseed does not try to convert people to his way of thinking. Rather he holds up a mirror and simply sows seeds in the heart of the people he meets by simple, well-placed advice or a book that he gives away. The simple, spiritual life of a man who works hard, is open and tolerant towards others and who helps other people in whichever way he can. The kind of person we need more of.
I do not know if this title is something for ‘the usual Gangleri.nl reader’, but the books of Bitkoff read easily and they are certainly something different from ‘my usual literature’ (and yours?) which never hurts, does it?
2015 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 0991577515
The third book that the author sent me to review seems to be aimed at a different audience than the other two books. “Beyond The River’s Gate” is more a book for the new spiritual seeker, or at least, the seeker that has not yet found his path and can use a little help to find the right direction. The book is very general in the first parts. In a Q-and-A between a traveller and a master you can read about life and death, reincarnation, Karma, the spritual path, etc. Here and there the words used suggest that the book is written from a certain perspective. In easy descriptions and with examples, the author tells his readers about spirituality. The book tends to be somewhat repetitive and the Q-and-A-form is not entirely my thing. Lateron there are anecdotes, short stories, etc. and here the author is clear about the point that the starting point is the Sufi tradition of his master (that we can read about in Sufism For Western Seekers.
I think I am not the audience that Bitkoff aims for with this book, but if you are still searching or just curious about a man’s spiritual journey and how this stands in the life of a Westerner, you might just want to read Bitkoff’s latest book.
2014 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 0991577507
Late 2011 Bitkoff asked if I was interested in reviewing his book “Sufism For Western Seekers”. Only months after I finished it, I got another email that he had a new book ready. The previous book is about spiritual teaching, this time Bitkoff entwined this with a novel. “The Ferryman’s Dream” has 22 chapters, each consisting of three parts. First come spiritual musings, the middle part is a story and the last part can be either spiritual reflections or poetry. The last parts are set in another font. The book is quite alike the previous book, but this time the book is not about the author’s path, but he describes a similar development for two other persons. The first parts of each chapter reminds most of the previous book. In my opinion, the author would have been well able to bring the same message only using the story-format. Now it comes across somewhat duplicate at times, especially when part three is a repeated move.
The story is about a ferryman. This ferryman is Vesudeva from Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha”. Vesudeva retreated from the world and he fills his days with bringing people across a river both literally and symbolically. A young man with a very Western lifestyle ends up being Vesudeva’s student and later a friend of the young man joins the two. During the story you will learn a thing or two about spiritual living and about real spirituality in a master-student relationship. The story is nice. The book as a whole, again, reads easily. It is not even 150 pages, so it does not take long to read it. Also again the book seems more introductionary and meant for people who are not familiar with esotericism or spiritual teachings than for providing extra depth for people who are. There are many people in the West who should read a book like this, so hopefully the author is able to spread it well enough.
2012 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 9780615613000
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