H.P.B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the Founder of the Modem Theosophical Movement by Sylvia Cranston; Jeremy TarcherlPutnam,1992; hardbound.
The late and great American spiritual philosopher Manly P. Hall wrote in The Phoenix: “Occultism in the Western world owes all that it is to the pioneering of H. P. Blavatsky. Her tireless efforts are responsible in no small measure for the freedom and tolerance accorded to metaphysical speculations in this century. Remove H. P. Blavatsky and the structure of modern occultism falls like a house of cards.”
Time ha s a way of putting truly great people in a sense ahead of us rather than in the darkening past. As a result, those who are regarded as great in their lifetime, without truly deserving such regard, tend to diminish once dead, while the truly great continue to increase in stature with the passage of the years and decades. This increase of stature is what has happened to Blavatsky, who died 101 years ago. The books in which she poured forth the quintessence of the alternative spiritual tradition of several cultures are still sold and read by discerning persons on all five continents. She is widely regard ed as the “grandmother” of the New Age, although she would have numerous bones to pick with many New Age teachers and their followers. Concepts such as reincarnation, karma, self-directed evolution of the soul, and many more that she introduced into the ambiance of our culture have lost their elitist associations and are part of our everyday reservoir of ideas.
Over the last 101 years many have asked what her greatness consists of, and some have answered this question by writing biographies of her. The latest and one of the most detailed of such works has just been published and –we are told - is the subject of a $50,000 national advertising campaign. The author, Sylvia Cranston, has previously coauthored four books on reincarnation. The book is advertised as “the definitive biography” of its subject, and in many ways one is inclined to agree. Extensively illustrated, well indexed and running to 640 pages, this is a serious work which no one with an interest in the late “high priestess of the Occult…can afford to bypass.
Strange and heroic was the life of this amazing woman. Born in 1831 in Russia from a noble Russo-German family, and married at seventeen to an elderly man, she fled from husband, family, and high society, and spent most of her life as a traveler and recorder of little-known truths and traditions. In America and Europe she took advantage of the then young and flourishing spiritualist movement in order to expand further the mental horizons of those who were attracted to spirit manifestations. She told spiritualists that they might modify their devotion to “revelations” from spirits and pay attention to the fact that they themselves are also spirits, albeit of an incarnate order. She called attention to the powers latent or only partially manifest within living humans, and wished to motivate men and women to discover their own spiritual nature which in turn would lead to the discovery of ultimate deific Reality. Even more boldly she proceeded to duplicate (at times openly) various phenomena of the spiritualists, while proclaiming that she had no need for spirits in manifesting the supernormal powers of her own spirit. In the course of such activities she ran afoul of an investigator associated with the prestigious Society for Psychical Research and was condemned publicly by that organization, which only recently got around to rescinding its judgment and exonerating the maligned H. P. Blavatsky.
Madame Blavatsky, or “HPB” as she preferred to be known. Performed some apparently miraculous deeds, but all such were superseded by her greatest “miracles,” her books. With such large tomes as The Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled, and with many smaller books, including the timeless spiritual classic, The Voice of the Silence, she left an abiding and unique legacy, and also laid the foundation for a distinguished school of thought, usually called the Theosophical Movement which today encompasses several active organized bodies, each with a worldwide membership. Besides such organizations directly connected to her teachings, there exist a large number of others which have more remotely benefited from her inspiration.
The major portion of Cranston's work is devoted to HPB's biography, but all along we find insightfully interwoven with the data of the subject's life various aspects of her teaching s. A most valuable portion of the book is Part 7, entitled “The Century After,” in which the author extensively catalogues areas of HPB's influence in many different facets of culture over the last 100 years. Literature, the Visual Arts, Religion, Mythology, Psychology, the Physical Sciences all receive their due in terms of the often prophetic, always creative and stimulating insights and inspirations proceeding from the person and message of the Russian wise woman.
What Madame Blavatsky really and truly was the world may someday know, or alternatively, such a full view may never be available. In many ways she still appears as a riddle, an enigma, not unlike some magi of the past, the Comte de St. Germain, Cagliostro, and others. One of her ongoing afflictions is that virtually all her biographies are flawed in some manner, Some, like Marion Mead's Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth ( 1980), are of fine literary quality but hostile to their subject. Of hers, like When Daylight Comes by Howard Murphet (1975), and Blavatsky and Her Teachers by Jean Overton Fuller (1988), are quite simply unremarkable both as to content and style. Sylvia Cranston is a fine researcher and thus her book is replete with highly useful, well-organized data, some of which are taken from Russian sources only recently made available. At the same time it is also apparent that her talents as a writer do not match her scholarship and research. It is sad to see an exciting subject become unexciting reading, yet such is the case. In addition, it is all too apparent that the author views HPB as little short of a major saint. All information that does not agree with this hagiographical emphasis is either ignored or is minimized to become virtually invisible. It is doubtful that the redoubtable Madame would have enjoyed being placed into a stained glass window, yet such now has become her lot. A completely balanced, excitingly written, kindly irreverent, and above all, humorous biography of the astonishing mystery woman still needs to be written. Fellow men and women of letters, please take heed!
-STEPHAN A. HOELLER
Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore; HarperCollins, 1992; paper
Facing the World with Soul: A Re-imagination of Modern Life by Robert Sardello; Lindisfarne, 1992; paper.
Like the Eastern philosophers, Carl Jung drew from his own experience when writing about Soul. His insight, however, was inspired by a myriad of ancient philosophies, such as Greek, Indian, African and Native American.
Jung concluded in his Collected Works that Soul is “objective, self-subsistent and live(s) its own life” (CW Vol.8, p. 666). The ancient Greeks called Spirit’s metaphysical manifestation “pneuma” or “wind.” Vedic philosophers deemed Spirit a latent energy, which can only become activated when joined with its empirical counter part -Nature. Jung calls the union “transcendent function,” a spark of life that gives Soul a form.
Psychotherapists Thomas Moore and Robert Sardello model their notions of Soul on Jungian tradition. By observing today's social and environmental condition s, they present their expanded versions of lung in separate monographs, which work well as a dyptic. Moore observes Soul’s intern al dynamic while Sardello portrays Soul's presence in the material world.
The authors, who are friends, agree that we have ignored Soul's existence in living things and have created a world suffering from its neglect. You can see it in air, water, animals, plants, and humans, they say. All states of Nature are perishing because we tune out the voice within ourselves and that of the Earth. Instead, we apply quick fixes to problems, which do little to resolve the real problem.
Both authors present ways to hear Soul. They explore how the light of the Soul struggles into consciousness and then into action. Cautioning not to fixate on results to problems in our lives, the authors recommend shifting gears and to ca re about our feelings about those problems. To do so requires probing with in and listening to the sacred, silent breath in both ourselves and Nature. One will learn to locate Spirit within the body and mind. Only then can we see clearly when feeling aids reason.
Moore's Care of the Soul, invites us to observe the dark beauty in human suffering, which he views as the most compassionate aspect of listening. Such observations provide the
… opportunity to discover the beast residing at the center of the (psychological)
labyrinth is also an angel…The Greeks told a story of the minotaur, the bull-headed, flesh-eating-man who lived in the center of the labyrinth. He was a threatening beast, and yet his name was Asterion- Star. I often think of this paradox as I sit with someone with tears in her eyes, searching for some way to deal with a death, a divorce, a depression. It is a beast, this thing that stirs the core of her being, but it is also the star of her innermost nature. We have to care for this suffering with extreme reverence so that, in our fear and anger we do not overlook the star.
In an approach similar to that of Joseph Campbell, Moore explores cultural myths as they apply to family
and childhood, love and narcissism, jealousy and envy, money, failure , and creativity. Using rich and free-flowing language, he also confronts psychological conditions, telling tales that reveal Soul's inner workings. His informative and user-friendly book is a must read.
On the other hand, Robert Sardello's Facing the World with Soul is more of a chore. Sardello begin s with a self-conscious and awkward introduction that dilutes the eloquent messages in his essays, which he calls “Letters.” But enjoyment begins once one is embraced by Sardello's patchwork quilt of thought-provoking essays.
Sardello has subtitled his book “Re-imagination of Modern Life.” But it is nothing of the sort. One wonders if his collaborators at The Institute for the Study of Imagination displayed their influence through the title.
What Sardello does, however, is to lift “the primary veil covering direct perception of the soul of the world.” Sardello agrees with Moore's approach to embracing the monster within, which is not unlike Jung's famous concept of embracing the shadow. “Rage, felt, held, not shut off or denied nor acted out-leads to compassion. Compassion must be nurtured to the point that one suffers with things.”
Sardello’s contribution becomes a manual for living in the modern age, drawing on age-old practices. For ordering your physical space, he offers “Feng Shui,” the Chinese Buddhist method for positioning architecture and interiors in accordance with the laws of Nature. Diseases like AIDS and cancer are “the most concrete instance[s] of the suffering of things of the world.” Economics and technology are tackled.His presentation of data informs, but leads to no unique conclusions.
He tells us to wait with an attitude of silence and “the Soul work (will loosen) the web of anesthesia…” that numbs our consciousness. Hopefully, the reader will agree. The spirit in Nature will disclose itself and our neglect of the sacredness in all living things will cease. In such harmony, we will regard ourselves as a part of Nature rather than Nature's master and all living things will thrive in a right way.
While one can appreciate Sardello's series of essays, the reader may become amused at the number of ideas boldly left open to disagreement. Yet, his cognitive speculation pro vides the charm of the book. Soul, after all, is drawn upon for interpreting Sardello's musings.
Feel into what is being said. Neither book defines Soul, perhaps for this very purpose.
Burma: The Next Killing Fields? by Alan Clements; foreword by H. H. the Dalai Lama; Odonian Press, Berkeley, CA, 1992; paperback, 96 pages.
One of the recurrent arguments against spirituality and spiritual practices is that they serve as escapes from involvement in, and contribution to, the world. Spirituality is therefore seen as a self-serving, introspective escapism. The most political formulation of this notion was the Marxist idea that religion is the opiate of the masses, and this formed the basis for the massive suppression of religion and spirituality throughout the Communist world.
Yet such a view fails to recognize that periods of solitude and inner searching represent only one phase of a much larger spiritual cycle. It mistakes the beginning of the spiritual life for its totality, and does not recognize that the so called inward arc is usually a prelude to the outward arc of return to the world. Indeed, in his survey of world history, Arnold Toynbee found that the most characteristic feature of those individuals who had contributed most to human development was what he called the cycle of “withdrawal and return.” Such people tended to withdraw from society for periods of inner search and subsequently returned to bring the fruits of their search back to the world.
This process of return and service is widely recognized in the world's great wisdom traditions. In Christianity, it is “the fruitfulness of the soul”; in Zen, “entering the marketplace with help bestowing hands”; In Plato, it is the “reentry into the cave,” and it is the phase called by Joseph Campbell “the hero's return.”
A dramatic example of this cycle of withdrawal and return is evident in the brief but compelling and important book by Alan Clements. In 1979, Alan became a Buddhist monk and moved to Burma where he lived and meditated quietly in a monastery for the next eight years with no political involvement whatsoever. Subsequently he returned to the West to teach meditation.
However, as Burma descended into political chaos and tyranny, with rampant torture, mass killings, and other abuses of human rights, he became one of the most active and effective of all Westerners. Since he spoke Burmese, he was able to undertake three perilous trips into Burma where he lived in the jungle with refugees, listened to first hand accounts of mass slaughter, torture and rape, and saw the maimed victim s of torture and war.
The result is a powerful, moving, personally and politically informed account of the devastation brought to Burma, the abuse of its people, the torture and terrorization of resisters and innocent s alike, the decimation of Buddhism, the deforestation of the land, and the complicity and deafness of the out side world – hungry for Burmese trade and especially its teakwood.
This is no mere compilation of facts and statistics. It is an engagingly, even grippingly written book with compelling firsthand accounts of Alan's travels in Burma and also first person accounts by Burmese. In contains a foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with suggestions and actions that readers can take to halt this holocaust.
This book stands as an indictment of the Burmese dictatorship and of the inactivity of the outside world and as a call to action for all concerned for human rights and the preservation of Buddhism. It is a ringing demonstration that intensive meditation and spiritual practice can foster compassionate and passionate political involvement and leadership.
The Case for Astrology, by John Anthony West; Viking Arkana. New York, 1991; hardbound, 500 pages including Appendix, Bibliography, and Indices.
First published in England in 1970, The Case for Astrology was originally intended as a survey of astrological practice from ancient to modern times, with an emphasis on the diverse, present-day endeavors to ensconce astrology into the respectable ranks of science.
John Anthony West and Jan Toonder, who collaborated on the first edition of this work, carefully outlined the statistical studies of Dr. Michel Gauquelin on the relationship of planetary angularity to profession, and on planetary heredity. At the time, Gauquelin's studies looked promising for astrology's adherents, finding a higher than expected incidence of correlation between planetary phenomena and birth time for particular professions.
This new edition not only updates the state of the art twenty years later, but also tells the unfortunate and epic story of scientific objections to astrology, which have increased in recent years. Gauquelin's work has been singled out for attack by critics of astrology. The critics, West contends, have been guilty of "evasion, abuse, calumny, neglect, deliberate lies and finally, in all probability, fraud."
This chronicle of astrology's encounter with modern science, narrated in West's typically acerbic style, is a no-holds-barred report of the increasing hostility of vested interest science toward serious scientific astrological research. It is unfortunate that the Case for Astrology turns out to be the Case Against Modern Scientific Method, but this may be a fortuitous turn of events in the collision between science and metaphysics.
West is mindful of the ploys of modern science, and points out the distinguishing features of legitimate methodology and the spurious posturing that have alternately made up the objections and attacks on astrology for the last two decades. He is also watchful of the pitfalls of the scientific mindset , and indicts "the true Inquisitorial nature of the Church of Progress and the general level of disregard in which the search for truth is held by many eminent scientists and academics."
West, a scholar and Pythagorean, is known in the bastions of orthodox science as an academic maverick and troublemaker (see The Quest, Winter 1991 for an article by and interview with West). The updating of this valuable work, which has become a classic on shelves of practicing astrologers, exhibits West's analytical strengths and insights into the philosophical dilemmas of our time. Truth, by whatever means it is presented, may be apprehended when the pride and prejudice of traditional scientific inquiry is abandoned. In the words of the English astronomer Dr. Percy Seymour, scientific pride "also can shackle the creative imagination of scientists and impede scientific progress."
Carmina Gadelica: Hymns & Incantations Collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the Last Century by Alexander Carmichael; Lindisfarne Press, Hudson, NY, 1992; paperback.
This substantial book (689 pp) is a treasure much sought after by Celtophiles the world over. Its contents have appeared only in small excerpts in other books, leaving one longing for more. Now, after almost a hundred years, the collection is available to us with a scholarly introduction by John MacInnes. Best of all, there are the intimate commentaries of Carmichael himself giving us insights into the Gaelic-speaking folk of his time who took him into their confidence as they shared the beauty and simplicity of their prayers. What stories! One tells of a man who walked back twenty-six miles to make sure that his invocation would never appear in print and be read by a cold eye!
From these incantations emerge (so significant for us today) accumulative proof of the extent to which these Celtic people included the sacred and holy in their everyday life. No separation of spirit and matter exists in Celtic Christianity. They live, according to Esther de Waal, the Celtic scholar, with" God under my Roof" and "At the Edge of Glory." Whether it's blessing an infant, a cow, or a journey, or lighting a fire, or welcoming a stranger, or praying for healing or good weather, "the Blessed Three" are invoked with touching and poetic feeling. These prayers are lovesome and tender, humble and full of awe and gratitude for life. Who can resist "A Clipping Blessing"for a sheep?
Go shorn and come woolly
Bear the Beltane lamb,
Be the lovely Bride thee endowing,
And the fair Mary sustaining thee .
Michael the chief be shielding thee
From the evil dog and from the fox . . .
And from the taloned birds of
destructive bills from the taloned
birds of hooked bills.
The prayers are both pagan and Christian, The Bridget or Bride (pronounced Bridie) invoked is the Christianized Goddess Brid of the Celts, she who ruled over flocks, wisdom, and laughter. Beltane is the ancient May Day festival marking the zodiacal midpoint between spring equinox and summer solstice. Here is one to "The New Moon":
When I see the new moon,
It becomes me to say my rune;
It becomes me to praise the Being
For His kindness and His goodness.
Seeing how many a man and woman
have gone hence
Over the black river of the abyss,
Since last thy countenance
shone on me,
Thou new moon of the heavens!
As recently as 1967, the Outer Hebrides were still without electricity. I am glad that I witnessed that. Over the years since then, I have traveled there several times again and seen the incursions of so called "civilization." With electrical power has come TV and an increasing use of the English language, but Gaelic is still spoken and sung, and the ceilidhs and strupaks continue- the dances and visits where the housewife bids you "come away in" and rushes to " throw up some scones" for a wee strupak. The magic of place dominates all the West of Scotland. Words can scarcely convey the brooding power of the landscape and the colors of the sea and the sky. Weather is the great deity hovering over this world, so no small wonder that invocations are there to the elements in their terror and their wild beauty.
In Carmichael's day, these people were by all standards considered to be poor, uneducated, and backward. So poor, that many escaped over the seas to this country. But thanks to this collector's loving ear and wise insight, we have this lost legacy of wealth of the spirit. Looked at in another way, these hardy people were richer than we because their lives had meaning and they saw the presence of God every where they looked.
If you are one to put love in the soup as you stir it or see the goddess flirting out of a flower 's face or are fearful of the national deficit and your standard of living, then this is the book for you!
-ALICE O. HOWELL
Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival by Joscelyn Godwin; Phanes Press, 1993; paper.
Joscelyn Godwin continues to surprise and delight the serious meta physical student. Arktos plows fresh territory, resulting in the first comprehensive survey of what until now has been a subject treated only in fragmentary fashion.
The Arktos theme accounts for the Fall from the Golden Age as a decline in the earth's angle of rotation from perpendicular to its current 23 ½ degree angle. From there, matters grow immensely complicated as we are guide d through a maze of complex explanations and theories. As with Rorschach inkblots, every manner of interpretation seems to have been thought up at so me time. Theories have ranged from the Harmony of the Spheres to UFOs, to the idea of Nazi survival (including the claim that Hitler is in Antarctica), to the Hollow Earth.
Godwin has broken fresh ground in mystical studies . Arktos resides on the fringes of mysticism, surfacing at times with an amazing driving power. We are transported to the core of mythogenesis through a study of a largely unfamiliar yet important theme. Much of New Age thought is directly connected to a century of speculation on this theme.
A Rosicrucian Notebook: The Secret Sciences Used by Members of the Order by Willy Schrodter; Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1992; paperback.
Willy Schrodter's work is a perfect example of a book that is epistemologically corrective. First published in 1954, Schrodter's valuable annotated collation of Rosicrucian arcana has the unmistakable tenor that differentiates occult information obtained by rigorously schooled initiates from supposition and speculation obtained by untrained psychics. It exudes solidity, reliability, and metaphysical maturity- legitimate guidance without inflation. In our time this is a crucial issue affecting our knowledge base and the parameters by which we know and assume that our knowing is accurate - that's epistemology. The 1990's new age/occult intellectual marketplace is inundated with free-lance meta physicians without formal initiatory resume; bookstalls are glutted with the hastily prepared report s from born-again reincarnate solar initiates , Mayan hierophants, Zeta Reticulan apologists, master cylinder planetary saviors, and Pleiadian spokeswomen, all proclaiming definitive cosmogonies and infallible prophecies with the presumed oracular veracity of Delphi.
The prevalence of inflationary heralds is unavoidably paradoxical as we move into the new style of Aquarian spirituality that emphasizes the individuation and metaphysical competence of the individual a rising phoenix-like from the ashes of a now irrelevant priest hood of any persuasion. The trouble is this Aquarian philosophical ca rte blanche easily generates an amateurs' bazaar, where the savant manque assert uncorroborable and often fantastic claims. Traditionally, hard-won, genuine occult knowledge was carefully guarded by the old initiatory lodges (such as the original Rosicrucians in their heyday) and transmitted to new students only in the context of a precise schedule of initiations and inner cleansing (a purgation of the astral body called the "Virgin Sophia" in esoteric Christianity) to insure a requisite soul maturity in the face of valuable, even dangerous, information. Now as psychics and astral cowboys sprout like dandelion s in the lawn of the collective psyche, these conventional regulatory protocols are inactive and the consumer of metaphysical texts assimilates material at her peril.
That 's why Schrodter's book is so wonderfully restorative. He makes no hierarchical claim s for himself yet he evinces a sobering, deep, and ultimately infectious interest in the broader (but occulted) realms of human cognition and action as preserved by such underground initiatic knowledge streams as the old Rosicrucian s – and he lets us touch and sense this rara avis, initiates' truth. Occult information is practical knowledge, too, often presaging technical developments in establishment science and technology by many decades, if not centuries. Schrodter, a former councilor in the German government who died in 1971, provides information on a constellation of esoteric yet inescapably fascinating subjects-alchemy, prana, the Philosopher's Stone, elemental spirits, immortality, telepathy, spiritual and magnetic healing, life elixirs, egregors, perpetual lamps, astral projection - drawing on texts and research spanning five centuries of Rosicrucian occultism from the classic 15th century Chymica/ Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz to Schrodter's own private wartime correspondence.
Along the way, in his avuncular, inquiring style, Schrodter sheds light on a great many riddles of esotericism from the Western Mystery tradition. Part of hermeticism is linguistic, deciphering the peculiar word codes commonly employed for circulating open secrets. Medieval initiate s were often called "Venetians"(even by Shakespeare) because for many centuries Venice was a key European center for Turkish Freemasonry and transplanted Arabic occultism. The human physical body is called the " Philosophical Egg" while the astral body is the "glorified rose" (for the Taoists, the "Golden Flower") and the "body of crystallized salt." The Philosopher's Stone or the perfect Stone of the Wise, writes Schrodter, is pure, concentrated, and congealed solar ether or astral sun gold; an initiate who has transformed his astral vehicle possesses the "Golden Fleece"; and in its liquified form, sun gold is the elusive "Elixer of Life," a kind of superpotent pranic drink ("liquidized etheric Life Force") that extends longevity. It was once the mark of a Rosicrucian initiate that one was able to produce both the Stone and Elixir in one's alchemical laboratory, in addition to transmuting lead into gold. This qualified one as a Knight of the Golden Stone, proof that one had completed the Great Work, the Rosicrucian magnum opus and true Chemical Wedding. By this expression the Rosicrucians were "pointing out that the union (or wedding) of the 'King's Son ' or spirit and the 'Bride ' or soul is not merely a spiritual affair but also a physical one, operating right inside the bodily mechanism," explains Schrodter.
Whether it's famous occultists like Paracelsus, Cornelius Henry Agrippa, and Robert Fludd, or Schrodter's more retiring contemporaries like Erich Bischoff, Franz Hartmann , or Rudolf von Sebottendorf, the sense of continuity over many generations - continuity of inquiry, methodology, initiation , and competence - runs like pure gold through the Notebook . Undoubtedly some aspect s of the Great Work may no longer engage us on the eve of the Millennium as the outer doors of the initiates' temple arcanum are opened, but surely the spirit of investigative, procedural precision and epistemological certitude amply demonstrated in Schrodter's corrective text cannot fail to inspire us to greater discrimination in our own researches today.
Meister Eckhart: The Mystic as Theologian by Robert K. C. Forman, Ph.D.; Element, Rockport, Mass., 1991; paperback.
Johannes Eckhart , born in 1260 in Hocheim, Germany, is widely considered the greatest German mystic of the medieval .era. He was a Dominican who studied in Cologne, where the influence of Thomas Aquinas was great. Eckhart held influential appointment s in Dominican strongholds and taught theology in Paris and elsewhere, acquiring an exceedingly broad following. While in Paris he attained a master's degree and thenceforth was known as Meister Eckhart . He became a popular preacher and spiritual guide, teaching in the churches and convents along the Rhine.
Due in part apparently to his immense popularity, Eckhart, in his sixtieth year, just after being called to a professorship in Cologne, was charged by the archbishop with heresy for so-called pantheistic and antinomian passages or statements. Eckhart traveled to the papal palace in Avignon to appeal to the Pope, but before action was taken Eckhart died.
Robert K. C. Forman's aim is to interpret Eckhart's mystical experiences clearly and precisely, by following the growth and development of his mystical life, and by analyzing his percept ion of the mystical experience from with in. He addresses the question, " If I were under your tutelage, Master Eckhart , what might I be expected to experience and what significance would it have?"
In placing Eckhart in historical context, Forman states that mysticism, both in the East and the West, has tended to arise during periods of social disorder. In Eckhart's time there was a turning away, because of the rise of urban life and resultant changes in the needs of the people, from the extensive institutions in favor of new spiritual satisfaction within; and mysticism was "in the air."
Forman devotes the entire central portion of the book (five chapters) to a systematic textual -study of Eckhart's references to the mystical stages. He discerns a consistent pattern in the texts - a turning away from the ordinary and the transcient toward the divine. In a chapter on "The Transformation Process" he compares Eckhart's steps with the contemporary psychotherapeutic tradition-the "letting go" of attachments.
The Rapture, or temporary mystical experience (Gezucket) - a stillness in which no thought occurred - is the identical state described by other Christian writers such as St. Paul and St. Augustine. To Forman, this state of consciousness is significant as an initial step leading to the Birth (Geburt) of God in the individual, progressing next to the Breakthrough (Durchbruch). These were to Eckhart the primary foci of the mystical experience.
Birth (unlike the Rapture, a permanent state) required the detachment from all else-an interpretation that Forman finds agreed upon by Eckhart scholars before him. The Birth led to the experiencing of "an intimate coalescence" between God and the soul. The Breakthrough was the advanced mystical experience described by Eckhart, beginning with the internalization of God. Forman perceives this as the ultimate state that "crowns and perfects" the Birth.
The mystical journey to Eckhart was a process of steady spiritual evolution and personal discovery. Forman considers the Breakthrough as experienced by Eckhart to be a "truly novel form" of experience the advanced mystical experience going beyond all distinctions between the self and all creatures and the Godhead. The translation of Eckhart's words on the experience are: " Here God bids all perfections to enter the soul."
Forman finds Eckhart leaning more heavily on Neoplatonic meaning than on Christian trinitarianism and cites passages in specific sermons. Yet he finds the real thrust of Eckhart's teaching on the unity of the trinitarian God as centered on the Son- the Imago Dei-and the Son's birth in the soul, with the Son as the archetype for man.
In summarizing Eckhart's theological system, Forman finds a "systematic world view" in a paradigm that is informed by and accounts for, the steps that may occur in the religious life. The author has at the same time succeeded in this scholarly work in his efforts to clarify the pathway of interior transformation set forth in Eckhart's works.
-MARY JANE NEWCOMB
Magical and Mystical Sites: Europe and the British Isles by Elizabeth Pepper and John Wilcock; Phanes Press. 1993; paper.
My first trip to Europe was a mixture of shock and embarrassment. Like so many North Americans, I was tot ally unprepared for its inescapable wealth of sacred sites. Little do we know of the day-to-day spirituality still alive in Europe, or of its traditions of alchemical pilgrimage routes, sacred sites, special museums. Pepper and Wilcock's book is welcome for planning a meaningful trip.
What began as a personal project to research mystic sites throughout Europe has resulted in a practical guidebook. Most such books are printed in Europe, making them hard to come by in the U.S. Wonderfully illustrated, this volume includes a useful bibliography for further research.
I would have wished for a book three times this size, and one filled with local maps. At least we now have an easily obtainable guide for worthwhile pilgrimage travel planning.
The Fruitful Darkness: Reconnecting with the Body of the Earth by Joan Halifax; Harper San Francisco, 1993; hardcover.
It is one of the necessary paradoxes of spiritual development that as one progressively disidentifies with the physical body and its passionate life, one exchanges or transmutes-matter for wisdom, thereby birthing a new body of authority. For Joan Halifax, noted educator, humanist, and transcultural peregrinator, that body is as big as the planet and its ethnographic myriad of peoples. Halifax's The Fruitful Darkness,a superbly wise and humble poetics of self-inquiry, transformation, and dynamic compassion, is the perfect illustration of this process. Her book is a wise-woman's account of how she discovered “new flesh in my mind,” how she found “the gold of compassion in the dark stone of suffering” - and how we all might, should we emulate her.
But that stone- that dark inchoate mass of unknowing, of the shadow, silence, woundedness, and subterranean life-is ultimately fruitful. My life is the instrument through which I might experiment with Truth, says Halifax, who artfully employs key tableaux from her life of continuous initiation and quickening to exemplify the principles of her alchemy. She draws equally from her experiences in anthropology, deep ecology, Buddhism, and indigenous shamanism, inspiring us with the breadth of their fusion in one body of understanding. At the heart of all discourses, suggests Halifax, is the wound, the unexpiated pain. But from out of the personal wound that is identical with the World Wound comes the fruit of unrestricted empathy.
Halifax's The Fruitful Darkness is a marvel of meditative reflection tempered with autobiography, a sensitive contemplation of the tenfold path by which Halifax seeks, on our behalf, “to weave my way back into the fabric of Earth.” There is gold in the darkness, she assures us, which we may mine through the ways of silence, traditions, mountains, language, story, non-duality, protectors, ancestors, and compassion. Each of these ways represents an element in her fugue of a fruitful darkness. Over the decades Halifax has traveled the inner and outer landscape with numerous lucid companions - Buddhist teachers. Huichol shamans, Native American elders, poets, scientists - whose presence and insights enrich her text. She honors all voices, puts her ear to the ground to listen to all members of the vast natural sangha of the planet, the community of biological beings, including whales, dolphins, stones, even extinct species, forests, rivers, now in the realm of planetary ancestors. “The true language of these worlds opens from the heart of a story that is being shared between species,” she says. “Earth is a community that is constantly talking to itself, a communicating universe.”
To listen you must learn the ways of silence, solitude, and emptying. Only then can you find the place where the roots of all Jiving things are tied together, that point of non-duality, the root with no end, which is the life of the Earth, “this great distributive lattice” upon which we all live. Then, grounded, rooted, in touch with the Earth, we can practice intimacy, simple communion, warmth, and mercy with the world, says Halifax. The Fruitful Darkness, comprised of “observations, notes, stories, and realizations,” is the meticulously crafted, honestly sung log book of her journey down and in.
After voyages through revelatory terrains, mountains of illumination, both actual and symbolic, through the Yucatan, Tibet, the Sahara, the Sierra Nevada, she knows: “We have greatly underestimated our true identity.” Early in her life she understood she, must spend time in the mountains, that she must be what the Shintos call yamabushi, one of those who lie down in the mountains. In 1987 she fulfilled a 25-year-Iong intention, to make the perikerama, the circumambulatory pilgrimage on foot around Tibet's awesome Mount Kailas. Even to arrive at this 22,000-foot-high giant, after weeks of jeep travel and overland walking, is a triumph. Kailas, like all majestic mountains, is so utterly daunting precisely because it mirrors our own Buddha nature, our true wild, cosmic identity: the mountain within is the more awesome.
The recognition of this staggeringly simple fact fabricates the body of authority. “Little was left of me psychically or physically after circling it,” Regrettably for the reader, because she conveys texture, tone, and ambiance of place so vividly, Halifax is assiduously spare in her autobiographical delvings and changes meditative locale long before we've drunk fully enough from each well she has bored and presented to us. But that is the mark of a mature work, a few strokes, deftly, masterfully executed, no indulgence, no superfluity, no posturing- just the bone of experience. Maybe there isn't anything else to say: being there is the revelation. “Realizing fully the true nature of place is to talk its language and hold its silence.”
Halifax, on behalf of the constituents of her body of authority –“all my relations” - urges us to reconnect with the body of Earth. We must awaken from our delusions of a separate self alienated from Nature the environment, and our fellow humans, correct the grave perceptual errors that have sealed us in a psychocultural cocoon that imperils the planet. The Earth Herself, through her polyphony of acknowledged tribal voices, will aid us. “The wisdom of elder cultures can make an important contribution to the postmodern world,” Halifax argues. This elder wisdom takes articulate living expression not as schematics, theories, and constructs, but as a direct experience of “stillness, solitude, simplicity, ceremony, and vision.”
Western culture needs a strong purification in the autochthonous sweat lodge of the native peoples' worldview, says Halifax . Our goal, in part, is the attainment of what Buddhism calls the six Natural Conditions (or Perfections) which we find in the deep, soul-making ground of fertile darkness. Let us aspire to generosity, wholesomeness, patience, enthusiasm, communion, and wisdom, says Halifax, and grow incomparable roses from the garbage of our civilization. Reconnected, our wounds make a door into the World Body, a gate through which our spirit-hand reaches in phototropic trust to what is moving towards us. The body of authority is the wisdom of “interbeing,” our unassailable identity with the world. Halifax deserves our thanks for showing us how to travel a long way to find a bit of true nature. “The yield of the journey is ex pressed by the light pouring out of the window of our interior worlds, the deep ground of our actual lives.”
The Eight Gates of Zen: Spiritual Training in an American Zen Monastery by John Daido Loori; Dharma Communications: Mt. Tremper, New York, 1992; paperback.
If you still don't know what Zen is, it's your own fault. Library shelves are stuffed with books a bout Zen, and we probably don't need more of the kind that describe what Zen is. But a new kind of book has made its appearance in recent years and it is of equal or greater interest. That is the kind of book that reflects the actual experience of the first generation of Western Buddhist teachers. Such books are display cases for Zen students who have practiced for several decades, achieved some degree of spiritual realization, and have received Dharma transmission and permission to teach from their teachers. These books are valuable for not only the teaching we read but also for their tacit witness to the fact that spiritual attainment is still a reality.
John Loori has been a student of Taizan Maezumi Roshi of the Zen Center of Los Angeles for many years. He is now the teacher and abbot of his own monastery at Mount Tremper, in the Cat skill Mountains in southern New York. The Eight Gates of Zen is not a “this-is-what-Zen-is” kind of book but rat her is ostensibly a description of what spiritual t raining involves at a no-nonsense monastery run by a teacher who knows that Zen is a religious path and not a hobby. His monastery is hard to get into and the life there is challenging once one is accepted. For those who are accepted and who settle in for long-term practice, the monastery offers eight “gates,” or entrances into the spiritual life of Zen. These are Zen meditation (zazen), individual study with the teacher, liturgy, ethical and moral self-education, art practice, body practice, academic study of Buddhism, and work as spiritual practice. These approaches to, and expressions of, Zen are followed over ten stages, which Loori likens to the ten stages of the well-known “Ten Ox-herding Pictures.” The structure of the eight gates and ten stages, which includes the elaborate and rigorous koan study that is part of this form of Buddhism, leaves no doubt as to the rigor of practice at Mount Tremper.
But The Eight Gates of Zen is more than a mere description of the course of practice at one American Buddhist community, as interesting as that may be for students of religion , sociologists, and the like. Loori uses the structure of the eight gates as a device for exploring and commenting on the importance and relevance of each of the eight gates from the perspective of his own under-standing. To mention just three of the gates, I find that he speaks convincingly of the necessity of liturgical practice, academic study of Buddhism, and moral and ethical grounding. This is particularly important because Americans (and perhaps Europeans) who follow Buddhism are, as a group, abysmally ignorant of the teachings of Buddhism, and don't see the relevance of bowing, chanting, and other practices. They do not practice Buddhism as a spiritual path and often lack authoritative guidelines for conduct. It is little wonder that fundamentalist Christian preachers see Zen as cultlike and a refuge for hippies.
Another area of discussion that will interest members of the Buddhist community is that of the nature of monk and nun practice and its relationship to lay practice. Loori insists on making a sharp distinction between the two forms of practice, observing correctly that in our culture we don't really know what a Buddhist monk or nun is, with the result that in many communities, “monks” have families, work in the secular world part or full time, accumulate property, and so on, so that beyond the robes that they wear, they are indistinguishable from lay students. Loori makes the distinct ion and discusses the importance of both kinds of practice and their interdependence.
Still, Loori's permitting couples to live together or at least have a physical relationship as long as the couple does not have children, leads me to question whether he has completely settled the question of what a monastic is as opposed to a lay person. Should renunciation of worldly cares and attractions be extended to the greatest of all distraction s and attract ions? Is sex incompatible with a true commitment to a spiritual way? (Ancient Buddhism thought so.) Is the traditional Buddhist negative attitude towards sex simply outmoded and irrelevant today? And if it is all right to have a satisfying sex life, why can't one also own a Mercedes? Eventually the American Buddhist community needs to settle this issue.
Loori 's book will be of interest to American Buddhists and to scholars and professionals who are interested in American religion. The book is well written and produced, thanks both to the literacy of the author and the excellent editorial work by Bonnie Myotai Treace and Conrad Ryushin Marchaj.
-FRANCIS DOJUN COOK
Islands of the Dawn: The Story of Alternative Spirituality in New Zealand by Robert S. Ellwood; University of Hawaii Press, 1993; hardcover.
New Zealand is in many ways a conservative land, both politically and culturally, with a reputation for being more English than England. Yet since its settlement by the British in the 1850s and 1860s, it has -been a fertile breeding ground for religious movements that are alternatives to the conventional churches of European culture. For example, in proportion to the total population, Theosophists are about twenty-five times more numerous in New Zealand than they a re in the United States and have included such local worthies as Sir Harry Atkinson, Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Islands of the Dawn treats this anomaly of spiritual radicalism in a conservative land by describing alternative movements both historically and contemporarily in New Zealand and by analyzing the cultural and historical forces that have led to their prominence there. The author, Robert S. Ellwood, professor of religion at the University of Southern California, has written widely and authoritatively on alternative spirituality in such book s as Many People, Many Faiths and Alternative Altars. He also has the rare gift of combining objectivity with a sense of participation and sympathy, expressed in engaging prose.
The first chapter, “From Nineveh to New Zealand,” is a condensed but very readable overview of the history of alternative spirituality from its European backgrounds, focusing on Freemasonry, Swedenborg, Mesmer, Spiritualism, and the Theosophical Society. Thereafter separate Chapters treat Spiritualism with special attention to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; UFO-ism; Theosophy; other esoteric or Theosophically related groups (Co-Freemasonry, the Liberal Catholic Church, the Krishnamurti Foundation: Anthroposophy, Alice Bailey's Arcane School, I Am Activity, Summit lighthouse, a New Zealand movement called Beeville, and Builders of the Adytum); and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn with its offshoots.
An appendix deals with smaller, 1960s and later alternative groups of four types. First a re Western and Islamic initiatory bodies; next, Eastern , mainly Hindu and Buddhist , organizations; third, some politically active groups like the Moonies and British Israel, as well as apolitical New Thought groups; and finally, neopagan and women's spirituality groups.
The ferment of alternative spirituality in a small, culturally homogenous and conservative land like New Zealand begs for explanation. And Ellwood supplies it. By analyzing the reception of long-standing alternative-spirituality groups, like Spiritualism and Theosophy, in New Zealand, he arrives at a cultural profile that seems valid also for other times and places.
Like the United States, New Zealand is a “denominational society,” that is, in contrast to a monopolistic society like Spain or Iran, religion is the concern of a number of competing churches which minister primarily to the needs of their members and none of which has responsibility for or authority over the nation as a whole. Denominational societies are pluralistic and, willy-nilly, tolerant, thus allowing new groups to find a place in society and become part of the accepted establishment.
Unlike the United State s, whose eighteenth-century foundation gave it the birthmark of a rational, individualistic, empirical society, New Zealand was a mid-Victorian creation, reflecting Romanticism, nostalgia for the past, secular utopian ism and philanthropy, and populist reformism. The latter Zeitgeist is particularly open to mysticism and spiritual experimentation. It is notable that the area of the United States in which those characteristics are strongest is the Pacific Coast, settled heavily by Anglos at about the same time as New Zealand. Another difference is that, whereas parts of the United States were founded on religious motives and its population remains one of the church-goingest in the world, New Zealand was settled by working-class persons already alienated from the Church. They were culturally homogenous and faced no cultural threat in the new land from which they needed to be protected by the support of a church community. Their background was largely Anglican or Presbyterian, churches that did not play the same central role in the lives of their members as Baptist and early Congregational.
These factors-an open ness to new foundations, a penchant for spiritual experimentation, a hankering back to ancient forms, and a lack of vita l organized religion - inclined New Zealanders to embrace alternative forms of spirituality with an enthusiasm greater than that found in most other lands. Ellwood (pp. 198-99) has identified eleven factors from the time of New Zealand's settlement that have inclined its people to alternative spirituality. Most of them apply also to the western United States.
It is noteworthy that a similar spirituality has developed in Australasia and the Pacific coast of America, just those places where Theosophical tradition says a new stock of humanity, with a new culture and spiritual outlook, is destined to arise. New Zealand , the islands closest to the international dateline, where a new day first dawns, may therefore be also a paradigm of the dawn of a new humanity.
Great Song: The Life and Teachings of Joe Miller edited with an introduction by Richard Power; Maypop Press, 196Westview Drive, Athens, GA 30606; paperback, 200 pages.
This remarkable book tells the story of a true American mystic, his travels through life, and his interpretations of teachings from many of the world's great religions. Joe Miller was a simple and profound man, a Theosophist, Sufi, Zen master, minister, but more importantly a friend.
The book is a distillation of the many lectures Joe gave at the San Francisco Lodge of the Theosophical Society, or on his famous Thursday walk s in Golden Gate Park, when he and his wife Guin would be joined typically by dozens of people, and on holidays by hundreds. It is a beautiful tapestry of Miller's life experiences, including meetings with Annie Besant and W. Y. Bvans-wentz.
In his introduction to the book, Richard Power wrote, “Joe was an authentic American revolutionary of the spirit…He had no formal education beyond the eighth grade. He held no hierarchical posit ion in any religious organization. Joe didn't publish any books or write any articles for prestigious reviews. He didn't 'travel the national lecture circuit. Joe had no videos to market, and he didn't organize seminars…He spoke for free, and he would talk to anyone who was interested.”
Joe was deeply influenced by the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. He often spoke of realization and various states of consciousness. There is commentary on the Sutra of Hui-Neng and the Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation. “The Great Liberation is something that you individually find out and work with yourself,” Joe said. “Not by going with out, but by going within…you have to find that reality with in yourselves.”
He would advise, “I tell people to keep a little place, just 10% inside your heart and know that little place doesn't belong to anybody, just God and you have access to it.”
And he would say, “The truth IS, nobody can say it. You've got to BE it! You've got to live it. That's Sufism, that's Theosophy, that’s Christianity, that's Vedanta, Zen, Buddhism. Whatever name you want to put on it, you have to feel the at-one-ment with the reality.”
And, “It 's all a Oneness in reality, all the different things are but the divisions of the lower levels of your consciousness, which you can understand if you come into awareness. We live in a world of duality and we have to learn to see through that duality. How can we see the Oneness if we're running one way or another? Whether it's money or energy, we say, ‘Oh, I gotta get to this, I gotta get to that.' But can we look at it and see that it's just two side s of one thing. Look at it all from the standpoint of equilibrium of the middle path.”
The book packs a punch. Joe was never one to be at a loss for words. He talks about Sufism, Jesus and Muhammad, spiritual practices, marriage, sex, love, the bhakti path, Theosophy, spiritual hierarchy, psychic experiences, the River meditation, the Six Rules of Tilopa, and more. There is something in this for everyone: humor, warmth, and simple discussion of some very complex teachings. Most of all, it contains the essence of one man who incorporated spiritual teachings into his own life, and lived love, deeply and fully. “We're not pushing a religion,” he would say, “we're pushing compassion.”
The Strange Life of P. D. Ouspensky by Colin Wilson; Aquarian Press, Harper Collins, 1993; paperback.
Colin Wilson's latest in his series of short biographies of the “greats” of alternative thought in the twentieth century is a critical but sensitive exploration of the life and work of one of that group's most important figures, the Russian philosopher P. D. Ouspensky. This is an extremely readable attempt to make up for Ouspensky's status as an unsung genius.
Ouspensky is best known as the diligent but dry expositor of “The Work,” the system of self-development taught by the legendary George Gurdjieff. Wilson's thoughtful account is a much needed counterweight to this assessment, and goes far in establishing Ouspensky as a powerful thinker in his own right. As in other books in this series - Wilson's biographies of Gurdjieff, Aleister Crowley, C. G. Jung, and Rudolf Steiner - the author's aim is twofold: to draw out the essential genius of his subject, but also to point out where Wilson feels he went wrong. If you are a reader of Ouspensky who cannot imagine him making a mistake, then Wilson's book is perhaps not for you. But if you are intrigued by the lives of complex characters who areas fascinating for their mistakes as for their deep insights, then this book should prove captivating.
Wilson's thesis that “even if he had never met Gurdjieff, Ouspensky would have been one of the most interesting thinkers of the twentieth century,” is based on two works, the exhilarating pre-Gurdjieff Tertium Organum (1912) and the chapter on “Experimental Mysticism” in New Model of the Universe, which Wilson believes to be “the fullest description” of mystical consciousness “on record.”
Those earlier works have an infectious enthusiasm and love of ideas that the later ones lack. Wilson asks the quest ion: What happened to the poetic philosopher who believed that “a new humanity” was near at hand, to change him into a puritanical, sometimes pedantic teacher of “the System”?
Two things, Wilson argues: Ouspensky's own romantic pessimism, and its tragic exacerbation by his meeting with Gurdjieff. Wilson concludes from an analysis of works such as The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin and the collection of stories Talks with a Devil, that Ouspensky suffered from a common complaint among late nineteenth and early twentieth century romantics: “world rejection.”
Wilson believes Ouspensky had already glimpsed the “secret” in Tertium Organum, that the book is full of insights, of the essence of “higher consciousness,” the Holy Grail for which he searched all his life. Indeed, according to Wilson, Ouspensky would have followed these insights to their logical conclusion if it hadn't been for one thing: meeting Gurdjieff. Wilson contends that Gurdjieff's pessimistic philosophy resonated too well with Ouspensky's world rejection. The last thing Ouspensky needed, Wilson argues, was a doctrine emphasizing what was wrong with human beings and that hammered away at their weakness.
Wilson’s account is commendable for its unbiased view of the temperamental differences between the two men; it is salutary to find a writer unafraid to say that they were simply very different kinds of men, and that the romantic intellectual Ouspensky would sooner or later have to cut himself off from the Zorba-like man’s man, Gurdjieff. Saddening, however, is Wilson's account of Ouspensky's last years as a heavy- drinking, lonely teacher of “the Work.”
Wilson himself has tackled the problem of “sleep” Ouspensky's nemesis –in various ways for nearly forty years. One difference between his approach and that of “the Work” is that he begins with the cheery belief that things are not as bad as Ouspensky and Gurdjieff believed, and that an optimistic outlook coupled with a capacity for intentional perception - i.e., attention- can work wonders. We may not agree with his analysis of Ouspensky's, and indeed Gurdjieff’s, failure, but we should certainly not ignore it, nor his tribute to one of the most exciting thinkers of our time.