Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing

Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing

• Explores the lifestyle of indigenous peoples of the world who exist in complete harmony with the natural world and with each other.

• Reveals a model of a society built on trust, patience, and joy rather than anxiety, hurry, and acquisition.

• Shows how we can reconnect with the ancient intuitive awareness of the world’s original people.

Deep in the mountainous jungle of Malaysia the aboriginal Sng’oi exist on the edge of extinction, though their way of living may ultimately be the kind of existence that will allow us all to survive. The Sng’oi–pre-industrial, pre-agricultural, semi-nomadic–live without cars or cell phones, without clocks or schedules in a lush green place where worry and hurry, competition and suspicion are not known. Yet these indigenous people–as do many other aboriginal groups–possess an acute and uncanny sense of the energies, emotions, and intentions of their place and the living beings who populate it, and trustingly follow this intuition, using it to make decisions about their actions each day. 

Psychologist Robert Wolff lived with the Sng’oi, learned their language, shared their food, slept in their huts, and came to love and admire these people who respect silence, trust time to reveal and heal, and live entirely in the present with a sense of joy. Even more, he came to recognize the depth of our alienation from these basic qualities of life. Much more than a document of a disappearing people, Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing holds a mirror to our own existence, allowing us to see how far we have wandered from the ways of the intuitive and trusting Sng’oi, and challenges us, in our fragmented world, to rediscover this humanity within ourselves.

The most trenchant wisdom can be found in some of the most primitive people on earth, as Robert Wolff demonstrates in Original Wisdom. Wolff, once a government psychologist in Malaysia, fell in love with a stone age people called the “Sng’oi,” a people who “had no neuroses, no fears … had an immense inner dignity, were happy and content, and did not want anything.” But he was mystified by their seemingly superhuman powers of knowing. Finally, in an experience of what he calls “oneness,” ordinary distinctions dropped away, and he learned that there was a way of knowing beyond thinking. Wolff also describes his encounters in Suriname, Indonesia, and the Pacific islands, demonstrating that far from being “primitive,” original tribal societies are the last bastions of true humanity. Wary of both anthropologists and shaman wannabes, Wolff follows a middle path of down-to-earth storytelling, making Original Wisdom an original find. –Brian Bruya

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3 Comments so far »

  1. J.W.K said,

    Wrote on November 11, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

    91 of 95 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    The Real Slaves, July 25, 2003
    By 
    J.W.K (Nagano, Japan) –

    This review is from: Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing (Paperback)

    The aboriginal Sng’oi of Malaysia are often described with words like “pre-industrial” or “pre-agricultural,” but it is a mistake to think of them as living in a former stage of what of our more “advanced” society has become. As Wolff shows in this book, it would be more precise to say that are living in another world – a better world.

    Having spent half his youth growing up among Sng’oi, Wolff says this: “I learned early on to be in two different realities.” One reality was oriented around the clock, efficiency, technology, and harsh realism. The other was fluid, timeless, almost dreamlike – a world in which “people touched each other,” a world in which “we knew animals and plants intimately.” The bulk of this book is spent fleshing out differences between these worlds, in an attempt to teach us Westerners another way of knowing, another reality. Yet in the process of doing so, it quickly becomes apparent that the modern world doesn’t quite measure up.

    As slaves to an alienating industrial system, we civilized people must pay rent to live. A completely self-domesticated species, we live in a state of complete dependence on big industry and agriculture. We are ignorant of the flora and fauna that support our life, and helplessness to a capricious global market. Thus, the condescending glance “modern” humanity casts at so-called “primitive peoples” is extremely ironic.

    Traditionally referred to as “Sakai,” or slaves, by modern Malaysians, the Sng’oi do not take offense. Says one Sng’oi man, “We look at the people down below [literally, from up in the mountains] – they have to get up at a certain time in the morning, they have to pay for everything with money, which they have to earn doing things for other people. They are constantly told what they can and cannot do. No, we do not mind when they call us slaves.”

    At one point in the book, Wolff recounts a number of silent educational trips into the rainforest with his friend/guide, Ahmeed, who was subtly trying to teach him to interact and connect with the forest on his own terms. After days of walking, Wolff became thirsty. It was precisely then that Ahmeed decided to sneak off and leave him to find water on his own. After searching for hours, he not only discovered water – he also discovered another way of seeing. “When I leaned over drink from the leaf, I saw water with feathery ripples, I saw a few mosquito larvae wriggling on the surface, I saw the veins of the leaf through the water, some bubbles, a little piece of dirt… How beautiful, how perfect.” His perception suddenly “opened,” and a deep feeling of connection enveloped him. “The all-ness was everywhere, and I was a part of it… I could not be afraid – I was apart of this all-ness.”

    Contrast this with our culture, a culture walled-in with fear; a culture that “learns – has to learn – to shut off the senses, to protect oneself from all the noise.” Unlike the Sng’oi, who are brought up to listen, watch and feel their world in depth, our culture inhabits apsychological straightjacket. We are brought up to act like machines only to find ourselves replaced by machines built to act like humans. Perhaps our fear of the natural world explains why our economic system has set out to expand and colonize every wild space left on the globe. In the other world Wolff experienced, every day – indeed every second – was a miracle. Life, by no means perfect, was nevertheless full of smiles, stories, songs and dance. It was a world without fear and domination – until Komatsu bulldozers started coming to clear away the forest.

    The topics Wolff address in this book vary from indigenous medicine to education, from dream interpretation to surviving the onslaught of civilization. This is not simply anthropology or ethnology, but a critique of modern industrial civilization and it’s “Development Scheme” in the gentle voice of someone intimate with the Sng’oi. In all, the book amounts to nothing less than an alternative way of being. I found it refreshing, insightful and transformative – three criteria for any great book.

    Edit: New reports state that Sng’oi culture has been “absorbed” into the Malaysian population.

    j.w.k.

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  2. Robert Kall "Rob Kall of Opednews.com" said,

    Wrote on November 11, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

    73 of 76 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    So Powerful! If a drug, the FDA would rate this book Class 3, August 14, 2001
    By 
    Robert Kall “Rob Kall of Opednews.com” (Newtown, PA) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing (Paperback)

    If this book was a drug the FDA would make it Class 3. It is that powerful and will have that strong an effect on your life.

    While it is described as an account of a Malaysia tribe, it is, more importantly, a window into another way of thinking about WHAT IT IS TO BE HUMAN. That is also the name the book was originally given by it’s author. Robert Wolff opens our eyes to see and think about possibilities for being human that our western world’s schools and media do not teach, do not suggest.

    Every person I know who has read this books says it changes the way they walk through the world, the way they see, the way they know.

    It discusses ideas that impinge upon parapsychology, shamanism, Carlos Castaneda’s works, intuition, healing…

    The book is a precious gift that will make you feel joy and sadness– joy from knowing the possibilities of being human, and the beauty of the Sng’oi, sadness, because the Sng’oi were reported to be “absorbed” by the Malaysian culture several years ago. They are gone.

    Thom Hartmann, who wrote the forward to the book, has written several other books which share a similar vision– Prophet’s Way, Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, and Greatest Spiritual Secret.

    Read this book and see if you can find a way to begin seeing and knowing, of being human, as the Sng’oi did, and see if you can find a part of them in your heart.

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  3. Luna Luna said,

    Wrote on November 11, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

    21 of 23 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    gentle touch – deeply theraputic, April 26, 2004
    By 
    Luna Luna (South Pacific) –

    This review is from: Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing (Paperback)

    This book is truly one of a kind. It is richly spiritual yet not religion based. It is about the author’s cross cultural experience, which brought him to a realization. Those moments he started to question about his commonsense of the western beliefs are so honestly stated.

    The book took me into a very different world where things were simpler. In this environment I could unwind my restless heart, and observed the very foreign culture…

    The effect this book had on me has been profound and long lasting. In fact I am writing this review two years after reading it.

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