Words are empty unless backed by experience, says Robert Frager, Ph.D. People will not change until they hear from those who have lived what they teach. Frager has indeed lived his teaching. Founder of the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology in 1975, in 1976 he became a student of the Sufi master Muzaffer Efendi. Since becoming a sheikh in 1985, he has given many sohbets-a Turkish word for the spiritual conversations Sufi teachers hold to inspire their students. The sohbets he presents here are compiled from his talks over the past decade and represent Sufism as it is now practiced in the United States.
Frager believes that the wisdom in such talks flows through the sheikh from his teacher and his teacher’s teacher all the way back to the Prophet Mohammad and God; the sheikh is merely a channel for something greater than any individual. Moreover, these talks are not lectures but rather living connections going both ways between heart and heart. Indeed, the warm, personal immediacy to Frager’s voice is rarely found. Like the tales of Nasruddin, he teaches through colorful anecdote and metaphors. Sufi practice has two sides, he says: one is to develop our love of God; the other is to become less self-centered. We need both, just as a bird needs both wings to fly.
“How can I put my knowledge into practice?” is the question we must ask. As the Qur’an states, those who fail to live by their understanding are like donkeys carrying a load of books. The books won’t change them. They can carry the holiest books but will still be donkeys.
Among the practices Frager teaches are zikr, or remembrance of God through chanting; halvet, or spiritual retreat; and adab, or “right action.” Thus do we develop character-or, rather, restore the character we had at birth. “I’ve never seen a baby with a bad character,” he says. “We are all born in a pure state. With hard work and God’s blessings we can return to it.” Other topics include Obstacles on the Path, Reducing Narcissism, Inner Work, Prayer, Marriage, Generosity, Taking Responsibility, and Waking before We Die.
No matter what one’s religion, the reader will find such universal wisdom in this book that he will agree with Frager’s teacher Muzaffer Efendi who once advised, “You can tell these stories ten thousand times and people will still benefit from them.”
Frager (Institute of Transpersonal Psychology; Essential Sufism) comes to writing about spirituality with a fascinating double heritage as a psychologist and a Sufi teacher and author. There is always some dispute about the meaning of Sufi, sometimes called the mystical dimension of Islam, but the reader will find in this book a collection of “sohbets” (informal talks) that honor the Sufi way, but express a conventionally Islamic approach to theology and spirituality.
— Graham Christian, Library Journal
Sufi Talks consists of an enlightening series of sohbets, or conversations about spiritual matters, which are usually given on a weekly basis during Sufi gatherings. The followers of this path, called dervishes, come to immerse themselves in the energy and wisdom that flows from their sheikh's teaching.
Frager challenges us to work on building habits of the heart which involve openness, hospitality, and everyday spirituality. As an old Sufi saying puts it: "A person who can properly serve a glass of tea can do anything." Spiritual discipline covers all our words and deeds.
Frager insists that we take responsibility for our spiritual lives. As he shows through these conversations, Sufism is a path of practice in which our hearts are polished and we are constantly on the lookout for fresh ways of loving one another.
— Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat Spirituality & Practice
Frager, an American psychology professor and sheikh of the Halveti-Jerrahi Sufi order, presents in this book a number of discrete but interconnected sohbets, or conversations, on a variety of religious topics, from Ramadan and marriage to the soul and narcissism, with a special focus on living the ego-free life of a disciple. Though readers interested solely in Sufism, Islam’s mystical branch, should look elsewhere, as Frager liberally draws from Zen Buddhism, Judaism, mainstream Islam, and his psychology background, the author’s knowledge of his order is impressive and instructive to all, and his insights are often striking. Some of the main themes and even specific stories are repeated, but this results in the book feeling more authentically conversational, and makes reading almost meditative, as does several question-and-answer sessions. Frager is a wise teacher concerned with both the practical and spiritual well-being of his students, and his balance of abstract principles and obscure historical fables with personal experiences from his own Sufi group in California keeps the book’s traditional form fresh and original. This will surely be a precious resource for devotees and thought-provoking for the uninitiated.
— Publishers Weekly
"This book is a gentle gift intended to open the heart and lift the spirit. The lessons contained within these pages are highly sophisticated, but they are presented without pretense or self-aggrandizement."
— Retailing Insight
"Like a river of paradise, Sheikh Ragip Frager's discourses are clear, pure, and delicious to the soul."
—Pir Zia Inayat-Khan
“A wise, discerning and practical book by a man who has walked the talk. I learned a lot from Sufi Talks.
—Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions and Why Religion Matters and Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Syracuse University
"A generous river of a book, flowing with many stories about the great Sufi Sheikh Muzaffer, a bookseller in Istanbul. Something in me gets very happy when I hear stories that Muzaffer told, or accounts of what he did and said in his dervish community."
—Coleman Barks, author of Rumi: The Big Red Book