While this book makes abundant use of materials by Sufis of the past, it also contains many illustrations from contemporary Western sources. In fact, it introduced me, as if for the first time, to the very Western milieu within which I had lived all along but had not "seen."
Do not be fooled by the copywrite date. This book cannot be pinned down that way.
For those who want classic Sufi, technical formulas, here they are: Ghazzali's Ten Duties; The Eleven Rules of the Naqshbandiyya; and The Five Subtleties (Lataif-i-Khamsa).
I began by assuming that I was reading a conventional exposition, but somewhere in the middle of the chapter, I began to experience the sensation of bewilderment. I paged back to find my way out only to get further lost. It seemed that a line of reasoning began, but the author took no tangents. The line didn't take unexpected turns. It disappeared altogether. The grammar was odd; not really wrong, but peculiar. Words had the right denotations but reversed conotations. Just when I was about to give up in despair, Shah let the cat out of the bag and admitted what he had been doing. "It will not have escaped your notice," I read, "that I have been moving from one illustration to another without necessarily linking the two; that we have alternated arguments with tales and imagery; that stress has been placed on allegory and imagery within a sequential narrative which is not, however, expressed in historical, personality or logical terms for very long."
This brand of Sufism may or may not be associated with religion. Often Shah expresses it in totally secular terms. I find it illuninating scientific conundrums, anthropological questions--even business decisions!
This book may be less than 200 pages long, but budget more time for it than you would expect. I found I must study it as one might study a thing, not as one would read about a thing. "This involves," he says, "a method which is not entirely uninteresting and is certainly selective of materials." Can you tell me what that means?
A Perfumed Scorpion consists of unusually straightforward statements of what the Sufi path is all about. It can't be described in just so many words because the path consists of knowledge coming from experience that can only be achieved as one develops the capacity for it. The attitudes and abilities needed to approach and pursue Sufi learning are described. And Shah always makes it understood that a teacher is needed. You can't really do it alone.
This is pithy material and not for the faint hearted. For instance, Shah quotes a Sufi teacher saying, "If you want to be owned by a tyrant, accept someone who only imagines he is a pupil." What's going on, here? Is this a put-down or is Shah passing on a helpful and practical observation? He goes on to describe the type of teacher who "feels a need to teach". Then he adds another saying, "Patience is the food of understanding."
He Says, "Sufi knowledge is the knowledge of something beyond customary human perceptions, yet reached through the very world whose characteristics often stand in the way of such perceptions. This could well be a summary of the theory and practice of the Sufis." He quotes from John Donne's sermons, "I neglect God and his angels for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door." He interprets this, not as melancholy irony but, surprisingly, as a hint that such distractions can be used, "in this prison of dimensions, to get beyond these dimensions." He says, "Truth seeks you totally. Make sure that you really seek it."
This book is a mind-blower. And even if you are not of a mind to take up the Sufi path - the Tarika - to understand the gentleness and power of what is involved can be seen as a real gift.