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Popular representation of kundalini chakras




Jean Shepherd Biography

Perspective on Kundalini

Georg Feuerstein and Yoga





The Kundalini Phenomenon, published in 2000, has been described as a warning, not an enthusiast work. This book (abbreviation KP) was authored by Kate Thomas, and provides an alternative to other versions. The cover proclaims a theme of “highlighting the potential hazards and counterfeit experiences induced by illicit Kundalini arousal.” This is certainly not a commonly favoured perspective. To quote further, the hazards can be triggered by  “sexual practices, magical rituals, psychotropic drugs, yogic exercises, and breathing techniques.”

Some Yoga enthusiasts apparently reacted to the issue of Yogic exercises being considered a problem. Yoga was big business in America by the year 2000. The following year, Time magazine estimated that fifteen million Americans were Yoga enthusiasts. The clientele extended to gymnasiums and executive suites. Yoga here basically decoded to a training in physical fitness, other aspects of the subject being far less popular. Kundalini is a more exotic interest. The Sanskrit word kundalini now means dollars.

One American reviewer of KP was Georg Feuerstein (1947-2012), a prominent exegete of Yoga who claimed hundreds of students. Despite a fairly substantial concession to KP content, he suggested that Thomas represented a “Christocentric bias.” (1) In reality, she was not a Christian, and nor a member of any other religious denomination.

Jean Shepherd Biography

Jean Shepherd (Kate Thomas)

Kate Thomas was the pseudonym of British writer Jean Shepherd (1928-2017). She was born to working class parents in Cambridge. Her agnostic father started his career as a plumber with a handcart, subsequently becoming a flourishing builder. Her mother Rhona was initially a depressed housewife who eventually became a Christian Spiritualist medium.

Jean’s father callously terminated her education at the age of fourteen. He sternly prevented her desired route to Girton College. (2) In the 1940s, working class girls were expected to marry or toil for a living; study was a luxury for the wealthy. Jean became a low paid clerk and hairdresser. In 1948 she married a vigorous young man from Yorkshire. Richard became a hardworking builder, while Jean lived as a housewife with two children. Richard was a beer drinker and visited a public house every night, while she stayed at home with the children.

In the late 1950s, Jean applied herself to the study of books on “esoteric” subjects. She did not wish to be a medium like her mother. She was more intellectual than Rhona, daring to investigate avenues like Theosophy and the Arcane School of Alice Bailey. She quickly rejected Blavatsky, but took longer to bypass Bailey. She created the Fountain School of Philosophy, a small and innovative project with a few participants. Rhona tended to superior airs in confronting this tangent. For a time, Jean maintained an active link with Spiritualism, but in her private reflections, was unusually critical of mediums. She did not believe that most of them knew anything substantial about life after death.

At Cambridge in 1962, she encountered Inder Sen (Sain), a Hindu disciple of Meher Baba (1894-1969) since the 1940s. Inder was a scientist, more specifically a specialist in electronics, having graduated in physics at London University. He conducted group meetings in Cambridge for nearly two years, and Jean was an attendee. She now parted company with the “esoteric” ideology of her earlier years. Her mother Rhona reacted strongly, and mounted a campaign of slander at Inder and Meher Baba. The Spiritualist medium proclaimed that Inder was “black.” This was not an ethnic reference, but an aspersion of more sinister meaning. In her opinion, Inder comprised a threat to Jesus and the mediums. Rhona was a declared disciple of Jesus.

Another problem for Jean was her husband, an atheist in disposition. Richard regarded Inder as an alien using religious superstitions to deceive the British people. He would angrily refer to “that bloody little Indian.” The xenophobia was militant. The critic received a shock when he eventually spoke with the detested foreigner. He found that Inder was unusually civilised and considerate; the alien could speak in scientific language that the critic scarcely comprehended. For a time, Richard even attended some of the group meetings conducted by Inder. However, he continued to be sceptical of Meher Baba, who remained a mystery to him. His domestic behaviour resulted in a divorce.

Meher Baba

The self-effacing Inder returned to India in 1964. As a follower of Meher Baba, Jean received many communications (often cablegrams) from this Irani mystic in the 1960s. However, she moved beyond the devotional outlook signified by “lover” clichés favoured in the emerging Meher Baba movement. Jean did not speak or act as a devotee. She contrasted with Pete Townshend, the voluble rock star who zealously promoted Meher Baba in London and America. Jean was a victim of misrepresentation and mistaken identity (created by devotees). She duly requested a fair hearing. The authoritarian Townshend instead awarded her a form of excommunication in 1977, effectively consigning her to oblivion.

The victim complained that oppressive devotees acted as if they were the ultimate representatives of their figurehead. Until her death, she remained completely outside the Meher Baba movement, which she regarded as deficient in terms of outlook and communication. The benevolent devotee Anthony Zois has recently commemorated her via a posthumous portrayal of a person lost to the indifferent  movement long ago.

Less than two years after her rejection, Townshend deteriorated, inviting a sustained personal tragedy in his reversion to drugs, accompanied by a prodigious intake of alcohol. He came very close to death, and lost all credence amongst formerly admiring Meher Baba devotees. The rock idol was no longer an anti-drug hero, but in dire need of rehabilitation.

In contrast, Jean Shepherd was a teetotaller. She eventually became well known for opposing the drugs lobby in the putative “new age” of spiritual advancement. Her stance against “occult channelling” was also distinctive.

Lady Muriel Dowding

Meanwhile, she collaborated with Lady Muriel Dowding in the late 1960s. The project was Beauty Without Cruelty cosmetics, then struggling to gain public recognition in the face of commercial and laboratory exploitation of animals.  Jean felt very deeply against animal vivisection, and opened a shop selling the new cosmetics. Lady Dowding (1908-1993) did not seek personal gain in her interprise, and endured many setbacks. Muriel Dowding was a major figurehead of the anti-vivisection cause in Britain; she became president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS).

Jean married a second time in 1970. Her new husband was very different to Richard, being an intellectual with a public school accent. Jeremy was an English tutor who later became a university specialist. Two of his private interests were Idries Shah (1924-1996) and Gurdjieff (d.1949). Jean was at first cool in response to Shah, and did not favour the eccentric epic of Gurdjieff known as Beelzebub’s Tales. She preferred the works of P.D. Ouspensky. Her second marriage dissolved after a few years. She met Shah, and had an enduring respect for him. She remained reserved about Gurdjieff, describing this figure as morally dubious. 

In the late 1970s, her hostile mother Rhona became ill, an event accompanied by a major shock. The medium now perceived that she had been in the wrong for many years. In a state of mental agony, Rhona now referred to herself as a wicked woman, confessing the misdeeds she had committed against her daughter (even cutting Jean out of the family will). Spiritualism had not proved the redeeming route she had so emphatically believed. Rhona died soon after.

Idries Shah

Jean acknowledged Idries Shah as one of her inspirers. Shah was a prolific author of rather varied books. He became noted for a version of Sufism avoiding dogmatic religious content. (3) Associated with the Naqshbandi Order, he was regarded by his supporters as a Sufi master. Very different opinions were expressed about his career. In 1980s correspondence, Jean disagreed with Colin Wilson (1931-2013), a writer on the paranormal, about the abilities of Shah. She believed that the Afghan savant possessed a high degree of spiritual knowledge; Wilson had also encountered Shah, but maintained that he was merely a gifted man with no spiritual expertise. Shah himself did not claim advanced knowledge or abilities. (4) He did not wear Sufi regalia.

At Cambridge in the late 1980s, Jean conducted group meetings associated with Idries Shah Sufism. (5) However, she was completely independent and did not claim any Naqshbandi Sufi transmission. In KP, she is very objective about Sufi affiliation. “Claims deriving sanction from venerable [Sufi] Orders are always suspect. Many things have been written about traditional Naqshbandis, some of whom were intolerant of anything other than Islam” (Thomas 2000:216). Moreover, she acknowledged Meher Baba (an Irani, not a Muslim), especially in her views about reincarnation, a subject rejected by orthodox Sufis. KP includes a quote from Meher Baba on kundalini. (6) She felt some affinity with the unorthodox Sufi matriarch Hazrat Babajan (d.1931), a mystic as distinct from an organisational or doctrinal figurehead. In an idiom far removed from Sufism, Jean Shepherd stated that her emphases basically derived from a protracted “kundalini experience” occurring in 1977.

During the 1990s, she was active in Forres, her home being adjacent to the Findhorn Foundation. She was involved in a head-on ideological collision with this “new age” organisation, influenced by Esalen and American counterculture. The Foundation promoted  alternative therapy, commercial new spirituality workshops, unconditional love, forgiveness, and many other influential slogans and activities which have been contested elsewhere. Pervasive therapy “techniques” were an insidious means of obtaining funds. The Foundation suppressed the objections of Jean Shepherd, who was treated as a dangerous foe by the relentlessly unforgiving management. This revealing friction became well known locally, and eventually gained international recognition.

The versatile dissident was strongly opposed to the psychedelic and hyperventilation theories of Stanislav Grof, a neo-Jungian psychotherapist of Esalen who gained widespread influence. Grof sold holotropic breathwork in expensive workshops hosted by the Foundation, and with some alarming results for participants. (7) Reporting those aberrations was a sin to new age forgiveness, a contrivance specially adapted to pardon internal flaws in suspect organisations. Because of her protests against Grof therapy, Jean was expelled from associate membership without a hearing.  Foundation economics was another  subject in query, and likewise the therapy mafia. A peripheral topic of disagreement was the deceased magician, drug ingester, and woman abuser Aleister Crowley (Thomas 2000:54-55, 169).

Like Grof,  Carl Jung (1875-1961) had achieved apotheosis in the new age. Jean Shepherd was a heretic, daring to contest the supremacy of archetypal theory (Thomas 2000:243-245), a doctrine facilitating the elevation of LSD therapy and numerous other drawbacks. She here employed the books of clinical psychologist Richard Noll, who was censored by Jungians.  The new age instead favoured Grof disciple Christopher Bache, an advocate of LSD doctrines disputed by the KP author in 2003. This episode involved the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), which hosted Bache. The confrontation became an issue of critical faculties. The Grofian psychedelic tendency to exalt shamanism is not advisable with regard to such concerns as  the contemporary use of ayahuasca, a drug now notorious for being employed by South American shamans to gain control of women for purposes of rape.

In the Findhorn Foundation zone, Jean Shepherd was misrepresented as a teacher of kundalini by hopelessly unreliable commentators. In reality, she warned against teaching kundalini exercises, which she viewed as a dangerous sign of incompetence. This is abundantly clear from KP.

Jean Shepherd, Dorset 2002

Jean spent her last years at Wimborne, Dorset, living in retirement from controversy. Her friends included local Christians. During 2005, in a nearby church, the Anglican Reverend expressed disapproval of what he considered to be an “occult” element in the first volume of her autobiography. She survived the fundamentalist reproach. One of her supporters informed the Reverend that Jean had become the focus of a conflict with alternative organisations on matters including drug use. No further adverse comments were heard in the church.

She retained independence from religious dogma, and was not a member of any movement. She no longer conducted group meetings, not wishing to entertain unsuitable “students” reared to contemporary lifestyles influenced by new age workshops, internet pornography, and the drugs lobby. In 2004, neuropsychologist  Dr. Peter Fenwick proposed a video dialogue for her with a celebrity. She declined, believing that videos amounted to indulgence and entertainment, not learning. Furthermore, the SMN were evasive about matters relating to the Bache and LSD issue

Jean concluded that the prospect for disseminating realistic information, in the Google era of video persona and tweet, was nebulous; her proposed second book on kundalini was accordingly abandoned. She referred to an extensive lack of comprehension about kundalini amongst the numerous partisans influenced by popular exegesis. She felt that an independent solitude from the new age was bliss. She no longer tried to tell people what they did not wish to know. At the age of 88, she died peacefully at home in January 2017.

Perspective on Kundalini

In her groups of the 1980s, Jean occasionally referred to kundalini activation, but not in the popular manner associated with the key term. She was familiar with the Arabic word lataif (subtle centres), but very rarely used that expression (Thomas 2000:139), instead employing the more famous Sanskrit word. Her statements about kundalini were often expressed in a context of warning, referring to a premature development that produced aberrations. Such warning cannot be found in the influential Hatha Yoga texts, which are patently enthusiast, and conducive to simplified statement. Those texts are the basic source for kundalini.

The first reference to a goddess Kundalini, residing at the base of the spine, is found in a text of Kaula Tantra, apparently dating to the tenth century CE, namely the Kubjikamatatantra. A practice of visualisation applied to the attendant chakra system. In the later Hatha Yoga texts, very physical extensions were added, including complex pranayama, elaborate non-seated postures (asanas), cleansing techniques, and mudras intended to manipulate subtle energy. Texts like the fifteenth century Hathapradipika inconsistently assimilated doctrines found in earlier works such as the Khecharividya. From the seventeenth century, the accretionary process led to a substantial increase in the number of postures listed in Yoga texts (Mallinson and Singleton 2017).  The subject as a whole requires to be treated with caution. 

Theosophy appropriated chakra (lotus) lore from Sir John Woodroffe's version of a sixteenth century text known as shatchakranirupana. The Serpent Power (1919), along with the flaws, was the major source for generations of Western enthusiasts in this difficult field. Confusions were widespread. Different Tantric systems feature a discrepant number of chakras, varying from five to twelve (and even more). A system of seven chakras became dominant in Hinduism.

At a Zurich seminar in 1932, C. G. Jung awarded the chakras a psychologising interpretation that cannot be found in the original texts. Jung was one of those whose interest was fired by Woodroffe. The psychoanalyst approached the chakras in terms of anima and the process of individuation (Jung 1996). The format was at a disadvantage in comprehending the diverse phenomenon existing in India and Tibet over the centuries.

The Western new age subsequently elaborated very eccentric and commercial versions of chakra lore, with typical emphases such as "work with your chakras for healing and transformation, to improve your personal power." So called "chakra workshops" advertised facile themes like "blocked chakras," the proposed remedy having no basis in any Eastern tradition.  Entrepreneurs were the unblockers. Jean Shepherd was saying that this nonsense amounted to Yoga scams. At the same time, she considered the obsession to be dangerous in sensitive cases of unwary practitioners.

The medieval Nath (Kanphata) Yogi repertory of hatha is a deceptive guide, having very little explanation to accompany the preoccupation with techniques. The reciting of mantras was mandatory in that sector, and likewise the elaborate postures now so commercial. An early scholarly investigator concluded: “The essence of the Hatha Yoga is physical exercise and manipulation, quite mechanical” (Briggs 1938:349). The Hathapradipika advises the practice of breath control day and night (ibid:344).

When questioned, Jean disclosed that her priority was a personal experience of kundalini, and attendant perceptions of what occurred in forced activation. This emphasis is repeated in KP (Thomas 2000:2). She did not treat the chakra lore as a comprehensive index to experiential states. She never practised pranayama, was averse to mantras, and regarded Yoga postures as superfluous. She viewed Hatha and Kundalini Yoga as an activity of reckless forcing, with potentially serious consequences generally unknown.

Sanskrit hatha texts favour evocation of feminie deities, siddhis (powers), yantras (magical diagrams), nadis (subtle nerves), and a symbolic theme of sun and moon. This format does not amount to description of a precise experiential process. The most famous hatha text is the Hathapradipika, dating to the fifteenth century. This displays an extensive concern with asana (posture), pranayama (breath control), and kriya (cleansing practice of the rectum, nose, stomach, and so forth). Kundalini (coiled power) is only a part of the landscape. This power is said to be aroused by the kumbhaka exercise of breath retention. “Through arousing kundalini, the sushumna is free of all obstacles, and perfection in Hatha yoga is obtained” (Svatmarama 1972:36). Complications are not envisaged.

Seventy-two thousand nadis have to be purified by kundalini arousal (Svatmarama 1972:59). The arousal was visualised and anticipated by practitioners, who were enticed by the prospect of siddhis (occult powers). This process was believed to achieve samadhi, the subject of the fourth and final chapter of the Hathapradipika. The contents are formulaic, fusing Hatha with Patanjali (Raja) Yoga, these two components previously being in rivalry as attested by earlier texts. There are persistent references to nada, analogous with anahata or unstruck sound. This can read like poetry even to enthusiasts. Readers are told that prana must flow in the central sushumna nadi and enter the brahmarandhra (at the crown of the head). Restraint of breath is said to facilitate the necessary continence for the concentration involved. Hatha Yoga texts stress celibacy, a discipline no longer fashionable. Pranayama is not necessary for such commendable restraint.

In another ethnic zone, Sufi texts refer to seven subtle centres (lataif, the equivalent of chakras), attended by a “mystical Quranic exegesis” (Ernst 2005:25). We are confronted with preferential symbologies in these diverse formats, not detailed experiences, which were perhaps elusive to the routine compilers. A rivalry occurring in India, between Sufi Orders and Nath Yogis, was a feature of the medieval period attended by hagiology (Shepherd 2015:309-315).

Jean was not predisposed to the subject of kundalini in 1977. She had not read any books on the subject, and was generally indifferent to anything associated with Tantra or Hatha Yoga (however,  she was familiar with the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali). When she did subsequently encounter Hatha Yoga texts, she considered these to be an eccentric distraction. Furthermore, her own experience commenced in another mode, only subsequently developing into what she later recognised as a kundalini process. In 1977, she started to use the word Yogi in a depreciatory context, informing (privately) that she had perceived many wrongs perpetrated by those who too often desired powers instead of enlightenment, and who prematurely “broke open the door,” meaning a forced inner development. Her references were complex in this respect, and not restricted to Hindus, instead extending to Sufis and other religious categories. She described Aleister Crowley as one of these erring Yogis.

She explained that, in such instances of "forcing," the negative traits of a person can become magnified to a hideous extent, causing extensive psychological and behavioural abnormalities. Such contentions are difficult to confirm. Nevertheless, the popular Western image of Yogis is offset by portrayals in Indian literature. The contrasting theme of “sinister yogis” does seem relevant to some extent. Yogis are often described in that literature as sorcerers misusing their abilities in the pursuit of power, wealth, and sexual experience (White 2009). Many Tantric Yogis seem to have wanted siddhis (occult powers) more than anything else.

George Feuerstein and Yoga

Georg Feuerstein

In his review of KP dated 2002, Dr. Georg Feuerstein reproached the author for criticising “spiritual heavyweights like Swami Muktananda.” This was not a convincing defence for an opportunist guru who became notorious in America and elsewhere during the 1980s. Swami Muktananda (1908-1982) was accused of regular sexual relations with young female pupils, two of whom confirmed the allegations, and in terms of molestation. “Other allegations include Muktananda’s encouragement of physical violence and terror tactics, and financial chicanery involving millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts” (Thomas 2000:112-113).

Many dubious gurus have been regarded as  spiritual heavyweights by their followers. The preface to a well known Yoga book (Feuerstein 2008) includes a candid acknowledgment of problems the author had contracted. In 1965, Feuerstein encountered his first Yoga teacher, a Hindu swami whom he does not name. “I discovered that my teacher not only was an accomplished master of Hatha Yoga, but he also used his charisma and paranormal powers to manipulate others.” This kind of detail is generally suppressed. Feuerstein adds that he ceased contact with the deviant Hatha guru, who “continued to influence my life through psychic means, which proved most disturbing.”

In the same preface, Feuerstein briefly refers to his first meeting in 1982 with Adi Da Samraj (1939-2008), an American guru whose real name was Franklin Jones. For four years until 1986, Feuerstein submitted to the dictates of Adi Da, a major exploiter who was the subject of lawsuits. Finally, “I could no longer negotiate the inner conflict I was feeling about his controversial teaching approach.” The effects of confusion were strongly evident in Feuerstein’s well known book Holy Madness (1991), a disastrous influence for many readers. Feuerstein here celebrates “crazy wisdom” as “favoured by Da Free John [Adi Da] and several other contemporary adepts” (quote from the same preface). The lavish sub-title was: The Shock Tactics and Radical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools, and Rascal Gurus. Cf. the critique of Holy Madness in Shepherd 2004:74-75, 84-85.

Adi Da Samraj

Despite his knowledge of Sanskrit, Feuerstein is not convincing in his version of crazy wisdom and “contemporary adepts.” Even general online reviews accused him of generalising about very diverse entities. Critical assessment of Adi Da was elsewhere becoming stronger. Readers pointed out that Feuerstein was still trying to justify the outrageous guru, and in the process ignoring many problems created by Daism. Even Wikipedia has recently started to become realistic about Adi Da, revising a disputed article that read like hagiography for many years.

With such an ill-adjusted approach, Feuerstein  became a Yoga exponent exercising a widespread popular influence (Feuerstein 1989). To his credit, he became averse to the commercialising trend in American Yoga. He resigned as a contributing editor to the influential  Yoga Journalstating his disagreement with the increasing emphasis upon asana (posture), which made physical fitness the objective. Yoga Journal commenced in 1975, and 35 years later, the founder had now also complained.  Feuerstein added: "It's just the tip of a very large and insalubrious iceberg of problems."


(1) The review by Dr. Feuerstein appeared in Yoga Research Center Newsletter, 2002. He states that Thomas had 20/20 vision on important issues relating to kundalini. “It has long been my contention that much of the current (New Age) literature on this phenomenon is ill informed, misleading, and often delusional or at least presumptuous.” He also agrees that “the authority of many of the self-designated spiritual teachers is highly questionable.” He adds that Thomas “pluckily criticises the work of a number of renowned authorities, such as Stanislav Grof and Charles Tart, for giving the impression that there is a backdoor to spiritual realisation, whether it be through drugs, hyperventilation, sex, or marathon meditation sessions.” Feuerstein then complains that “there is not a single spiritual adept left standing after she is done.” This was an erroneous judgment, even though targets included Gopi Krishna and Irina Tweedie. Feuerstein describes as bias the reflection of Thomas that authentic masters do not conduct initiations. He reacts to her dismissal of techniques, himself viewing the same exercises in terms of “spiritual discipline.” He evidently thinks that Thomas is too strident and confrontational. He also accuses her of using language “reminiscent of Christian creation spirituality” at the beginning of chapter 5. However, he concedes that her overall approach “clears away a lot of cobwebs and debris.” He even remarks that KP “is bound to stir things up, and rightly so.” Feuerstein ends his review with the revealing comment: “Despite what I perceive to be major shortcomings, this work makes an important contribution to the literature on spirituality in general and the kundalini phenomenon in particular.”

(2) She had Girtonian teachers at school. The indignant Girtonian headmistress supported her without success against the unreasoning pater. The girl showed talents in English language and literature, and also drama. The autobiography of Jean Shepherd, alias Kate Thomas, was published in three instalments, ending in a lengthy book entitled The Destiny Challenge (1992). She afterwards decided to compose a revised and augmented version of the first two volumes. She worked on this project during the last years of her life. At the very end, she stopped reading, and requested me to continue and edit at some future date. I have made a start on this undertaking, with access to her private files and correspondence.

(3) The Idries Shah corpus is not historically exacting, instead tending to anthology and “teaching stories.” The Way of the Sufi (1968) included a version of teaching from the four major Sufi Orders in India. Critics say that the sanitised approach to Sufi Orders can obscure the fundamentalism visible in some, or many, of the sources. I have encountered supporters of this corpus who tend to be doctrinaire. One of these people scorned my two recent books on Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918), without reading either work. The British critic depicted that liberal figure as a village faqir and tobacco addict of little consequence. He instead favoured Ahmad Sirhindi (d.1624), a Naqshbandi Sufi briefly mentioned in the Shah corpus. He was unaware of the case history involved. Sirhindi expressed animosity to other religions such as Sikhism. In his Maktubat, he referred with approval to the execution in 1606 of the fifth Sikh Guru Arjun by the Mughal oppressors. Sirhindi described this event as good fortune for Muslims. He “regarded yogis, Brahmins, and other non-Muslim ascetics (such as Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers) as irremediably misguided” (Ernst 2005:27). Sirhindi emphasised that the glory of Islam “depended on the disparaging of infidels; in fact he asserted that the imposition of jizya [tax] had been ordained to outrage and undermine them [the Hindus]” (Rizvi 1983:405). In relation to smoking, the view of Shirdi Sai as a tobacco addict is compromised by the factor of Idries Shah also being a tobacco consumer. Shah constantly smoked cigarettes and cigars, although some say that he gave up smoking because so many people copied him, even to the brand of tobacco that he used. The pipe of Shirdi Sai was far less imitated, being unpopular with Hindus, who were a majority in his following. See further Shepherd 2015; idem 2017.

(4) At his death, Idries Shah was celebrated in leading British newspapers. He was there described as having written twenty books on Sufism, which achieved sales of 15 million copies in twelve languages. Of Hashemite descent and born in India, he eventually chose to live at Langton Green in Kent. Shah assimilated Western manners to such an extent that he is described as the “epitome of Englishness,” gaining a reputation for humour and a wide circle of friends. His book The Sufis (1964) sparked a form of popular interest not previously known in this subject. He became noted for numerous books of Sufi “teaching stories,” presented with no doctrinal context. His Learning How to Learn (1978) was considered a unique teaching book by supporters. He subsequently composed the bestselling novel Kara Kush (1986), relating to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Shah established Afghan Relief to assist refugees.

(5)  I attended some of these meetings in the early phase. I have always been a complete outsider to Sufi Orders. As a writer, my interest has extended to early Iranian Sufism, predating the Sufi Orders, and also unorthodox Sufis or faqirs in India, such as Hazrat Babajan. Unlike my mother, I never met Idries Shah, but corresponded with him at one period (finding him to be very unusual in his approach, and worthy of respect). His books frequently indicate the mimetic aspect of popular Sufi activity. For instance, one passage states: “There are colonies of dervishes who carry out rhythmic exercises which sometimes produce mental states that they regard as divine illumination. Quite a lot of ordinary people, too, are attracted by this. They imagine, quite wrongly, that all dervishes are ‘illuminated,’ and respect them” (Shah 1978:120, condensed quote).

(6)  Thomas 2000:102-103, including the phrase: “Such indiscriminate or premature awakening [of kundalini] is fraught with dangers of self-deception as well as misuse of powers.” This was one of Meher Baba’s “rare references to kundalini” (ibid:102). Idries Shah is not mentioned in KP.

(7)  Holotropic breathwork is analysed in KP, describing that controversial exercise in terms of “a modification of Yogic Pranayama in its most extreme form” which has not “to date, been clinically researched” (Thomas 2000:6). Beliefs of breathwork practitioners are described (ibid:11-12), involving a theme of replays from earlier lives (or incarnations). The tangent from standard medical perspective is glaringly obvious. The practitioners were well aware that the content of breathwork sessions could create “acute disturbance and disorientation - and sometimes leads to breakdown” (ibid:11). The partisans adopted a naïve belief that “such crises can be resolved by therapists and counsellors” in attendance (ibid). See further Castro 1996:41-46, 79-106, recording a fee of £415 for a week of hyperventilation at the Findhorn Foundation. On Grof therapy, see also Shepherd 2005:6-24. Grof resorted to holotropic breathwork after his controversial LSD therapy met with difficulties.


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-------- Sai Baba: Faqir of Shirdi (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2017).

Svatmarama, Hathayogapradipika, text and translation by T. Tatya et al (Madras: The Adyar Library and Research Centre, 1972).

Thomas, Kate, Signals from Eternity (Cambridge: Roseking Publications, 1984).

----------Beloved Executioner (Cambridge: Roseking Publications, 1986).

----------The Destiny Challenge (Forres: New Frequency, 1992).

----------The Kundalini Phenomenon: The Need for Insight and Spiritual Authenticity (Forres: New Media, 2000).

White, David Gordon, Sinister Yogis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

September 2018