Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, by Elaine Pagels; Random House, New York, 1988; hardcover, 189 pages.
At a conference on "Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism" held a few years ago in Claremont, California, Professor Elaine Pagels told an informative tale out of personal experience. While traveling in the Sudan, she had a conversation with the foreign minister of that country, who was a member of the local tribe of the Dinka. He impressed on Pagels' mind that the culture of the Dinka in all its contemporary manifestations was still profoundly influenced by the creation myth of their ancient lore. Upon returning to her hotel, the professor found there two recent issues of Time magazine, the first of which featured the topic of bisexuality in the United States, and the second contained letters to the editor on the same subject. Four of the six letters mentioned the story of Adam and Eve and supported their views by referring to the story of Genesis. The Dinka, a tribe in a third-world country, evaluate their modern concerns in the light of their ancient creation myth, and modern, secularized, sophisticated Americans do exactly the same. In either case, the creation myth appears to have enormous influence.
This moment of truth in Khartoum led Pagels to the research that resulted in her book, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. As a church historian, she discovered that the first three chapters of Genesis have exerted a great influence on the attitudes of Christians in our culture and that the nature and tone of this influence was determined primarily by the kind of interpretation attached to these scriptural passages by the leaders of early Christian thought.
It is necessary to remember that the first three or four centuries of Christian history were characterized by a pluralism which was a far cry from the orthodoxies of later times. Christian communities and individual teachers taught widely differing doctrines and interpreted scripture in different ways. Thus the literalist party (which after the third century was elevated to the status of normative orthodoxy), represented by Tertullian, Justin Martyr, and others, saw in Genesis a historical event which justified their low opinion of the female gender and of sexuality. Tertullian called women the "Devil's gateway" and asserted that because of Eve's sin the sentence of God rests on the feminine sex forever, and women should properly feel guilty in consequence. In spite of the absence of explicit scriptural evidence to support the notion, these church fathers also held that the original sin of Adam and Eve was in some way of a sexual nature, and thus human sexuality was as tainted as the character of women, if indeed not more.
The Gnostic Christians, on the other hand, did not look upon the story of Genesis as history with a moral, as did the literalists, but rather they treated it as a myth with a meaning. Gnostic exegetes generally regarded the first three chapters of Genesis as containing a myth that revealed in symbol the interaction of soul and spirit within the human person, an interpretation which would have delighted such modern scholars of myths as C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell. Needless to say, such a mode of interpretation totally negates the gross and unjust reductionism whereby women and human sexuality are made to bear the guilt and shame of Adam and Eve. One may also reflect with some profit on the course Western culture may have followed had the Gnostic mythical mode of interpretation become the dominant one in lieu of the literal historical one which still continues to cast an oppressive shadow on attitudes and mores in our times.
Another conclusion drawn by the orthodox from the first three chapters of Genesis has been the belief in the corruption of human nature. Human beings, this belief holds, are so corrupt that they cannot be trusted to arrive at valid choices in their private and public conduct. Morally corrupt sinners that we are, we cannot be considered fit to govern ourselves, and thus it becomes necessary that individuals submit to the power of governments, no matter how tyrannical. Humanity forfeited its freedom when it yielded to the advice of the Serpent of Paradise.
One person who propounded such teachings concerning the corrupt human condition was Saint Augustine of Hippo, whom Pagels makes out to be the chief villain in the drama under consideration. "Augustine's pessimistic views of sexuality, politics, and human nature would become the dominant influence on Western Christianity," she writes, "and color all Western culture, Christian or not, ever since." It is here that her thesis begins to show a certain ambiguity, which one might consider the weakness of the entire work.
Before Augustine, Pagels claims, Genesis was read much more as a promise of freedom, and had it not been for the guilt-ridden sainted genius, Christendom might have become some sort of libertarian happy hunting ground of the spirit. Yet in chapters two, three and four of her book, she show abundant evidence indicating that anti-feminine, anti-sexual and ant-libertarian views were widely held by the orthodox and that the only people who were truly free of such attitudes without any reservations were the Gnostics. The trouble, it would seem, goes farther back than Augustine, and has much to do with the suppression of the Gnostics and their intra-psychic, mythological mode of interpreting scripture. Moreover, the Eastern Orthodox churches never accepted the teachings of Augustine, but followed instead their own authority, St. John Chrysostom, yet there is little if any evidence indicating that they were or are any less subservient to tyrannical worldly governments than their Western counterparts. (Nor does one observe a higher reared for women or for sexuality in Eastern Orthodox theology.)
In 1979 Elaine Pagels gave the world one of the most lucid and fair pioneering works on the Gnostics, The Gnostic Gospels. Those who expect to find in her present work a companion volume to the first may be disappointed. Readers possessing Gnostic and esoteric sympathies will be gratified however, by the third chapter of this work, "Gnostic Improvisations on Genesis" (pp. 57-77). Here we read statements such as the following:
Gnostic Christians . . .castigated the orthodox for making the mistake of reading the Scriptures-and especially Genesis-literally, and thereby missing its "deeper meaning". Read literally, they said, the story of creation made no sense. [Here follows a recounting of absurd statements in Genesis. S.A.H.] Certain gnostic Christians suggested that such absurdities show that the story was never meant to be taken literally. . . .These, gnostics took each line of the Scriptures as an enigma, a riddle pointing to a deeper meaning. Read this way, the text became a shimmering surface of symbols, inviting the spiritually adventurous to explore its hidden depths, to draw upon their own inner experience-what artists call the creative imagination-to interpret the story (pp. 63-64).
The repression of the creative imagination, recognized by the late C. G. Jung as one of the great shortcomings of orthodox Christianity, did not begin with Augustine in the fourth century, but much earlier with Irenaeus, Tertullian and other anti-Gnostic fathers. In the hands of the orthodox, the myth of Genesis logically leads to the unfortunate conclusions which Pagels deplores, while in the hands of the Gnostic, the myth is turned into a revelatory instrument of self-knowledge.
One cannot escape the impression that Pagels neglected to draw the kind of conclusions from the above recognitions which naturally would suggest themselves. Would it not be more reasonable to say that the literal interpretation of Genesis, beginning in the earliest Christian times, and not the relatively late pessimistic theology of Augustine, was responsible for the loss of freedom-whether political, moral or imaginative-and thus for so many unfortunate conditions evident in our culture? It may be that the praise lavished on Prof. Pagels by the heterodox, and the criticisms directed against her by the orthodox in the wake of the publication of her The Gnostic Gospels have made her doubly uncomfortable and made her shy away from a more forthright thesis. While this may be regretted, her work in general is to be recommended.
-Stephan A. Hoeller
Other Peoples' Myths: The Cave of Echoes, by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty; Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, N. Y., 1988; hardcover, 194 pages.
Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty's new book Other Peoples' Myths: The Cave of Echoes is a study of myths from both the West and the East that deal with the mysterious other. According to O'Flaherty, in myths of this type the other is usually represented by strangers, animals, gods, and children. In addition to what these stories tell us about the function of myth in general and about the beliefs of other peoples, O'Flaherty says: "But we also learn things about ourselves by studying these stories. For, as we progress, we may find that we are among the others in other peoples' myths."
O'Flaherty wants to use these myths to shake us, her readers, out of any complacent views we might bold regarding our so-called classical texts of Western civilization. And she goes further, suggesting that these much touted but rarely read classics are actually the texts of a small elite, not the general population.
O'Flaherty is Mircea Eliade Professor of History of Religions at the University of Chicago and this book is, in part, a response to her colleague at the University of Chicago, Allan loom and his book The Closing of the American Mind. In that book, Bloom states his claim that we still have access to our classics, a point which O'Flaherty denies. She says: "We in the West tend to indulge in two different but related misconceptions about our own classics: we think that our classics are in a sense eternal-forever fixed, frozen in the amber of carefully preserved written documents-and that they provide a shared communal base for all educated members of our culture. But neither of these assumptions is true; our classics are not fixed and eternal, and all of us do not have access to them."
As a noted scholar of classical Indian texts (among her earlier books are The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology and Hindu Myths) Professor O'Flaherty is in a unique position to bring some new light to bear on the discussion of what exactly are the texts of Western civilization.
Along the way she offers challenging insights and tells some truly wonderful stories. For instance, she takes the reader into the intricate world of Indian myths about sacrifice (both animal and human) and uses these myths to bring out the incongruity of the practice of animal sacrifice in Hinduism, a religion which advocates vegetarianism. She uses an old Hassidic tale about the circuitous fulfillment of a rabbi's dream to make one of her main points which is that reading other peoples' classics and myths will help us "re-vision" our own classics and myths precisely because of their differences. In an earlier book, Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts, O'Flaherty showed herself to be an adept interpreter of the mythologies of many people by exploring some commonalities in the myths of the ancient Indians, Greeks, and Celts. In this book, she not only attempts to integrate an equally diverse group of myths but to put them into a meaningful context for thoughtful readers.
Many Mansions: A Christian's Encounter with Other Faiths, by Harvey Cox; Beacon Press, Boston, 1988; hardcover, 216 pages.
There is a crisis in relations between the religious traditions of the world, Harvey Cox argues in his new book. The nature of this crisis is that "the universal and the particular poles have come unhinged."
Faced with a world in which some form of encounter with other faiths can no longer be avoided, the ancient religious traditions are breaking into increasingly bitter wings. Those who glimpse the universal dimension advocate dialogue and mutuality. They search out what is common and that which unites. Those who emphasize the particular often shun dialogue and excoriate their fellow believers who engage in it more fiercely than they condemn outsiders.
"This ugly chasm", Cox says, "runs through all religions, and is a source of considerable pain." Though Cox counts himself as a universalist, he insists that both poles are needed.
This book is his personal account of his own developing encounter with those of other faith traditions than his own Christian Baptist experience. Early in this account he is forced to confront his own ignorance about other traditions, and his own limited perspective on how dialogue ought to take place. For Cox, a theologian at the Harvard Divinity School, this was an often uncomfortable, even painful experience of self-discovery.
Cox will be remembered by many readers familiar with his work as the author of The Secular City and a revised version of that early work produced many years later. More recent works include Feast of Fools and Turning East.
In Many Mansions Cox offers a series of linked essays on dialogue among world faiths, "the Gospel and the Koran", "Christ and Krishna", "Buddhists and Christians", and "Rabbi Yeshua ben Joseph". From these interfaith dialogues he moves on to the question of dialogue between Christians and Marxists-including "the Search for a Soviet Christ". He examines his own exploration of recent years into liberation theology.
In a revelatory chapter on his own delving into Marx's ideas about religion, he finds that the often quoted line about religion as "the opium of the people" assumes a very different perspective when taken in the context of the whole passage in which it occurs. The complete paragraph in Marx is this:
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.
The sigh, Cox says, can be viewed as an expression of our deepest fear and pain. Furthermore, be writes, "Dorothy Soelle says in her book Suffering that a movement from "muteness" to "lament" is essential if suffering and oppressed people are to rise in protest and dignity."
Cox does not believe, as Marx did, that religion will die out; indeed he notes that there has been a resurgence in religion everywhere. What is demanded is that we take charge of that resurgence, that we shape it and reconceive it so that religions will "unite and enlarge us" rather than divide us and lead to self-annihilation.
Unitive Thinking, by Tom McArthur; Aquarian, Wellingborough, Northants, 1988.
We think in grooves. We think in little grooves we call habit and conditioning and inclination. We think in bigger grooves we call education and folkways and mores. We think in even bigger grooves we call environment and heredity and human nature. Whatever we call it, much of our thinking is preprogrammed by earlier thoughts that we have had, or that others have had before us.
Such thinking is not really ours. We are its. The metaphor of the groove suggests that we are following a path, perhaps a furrow plowed before by ourselves or by many others. However, as the groove of past experience becomes deeper and wider-as it changes from a furrow to a ditch, then a trench, a channel, a ravine, and finally a great canyon-something remarkable happens.
We get so deep into the groove we and others have worn in the surface of the land that we can no longer see anything but the groove. The vast surface of the land, with all its glorious variety, stretching to the uttermost horizon, is beyond our ken. We see only the sides of the groove we have worn into the earth. And then, instead of its belonging to us, we belong to the groove. The comfortable, familiar path has become a prison, shutting us in.
Much of our grooved thinking is in dualities. I and the other. Mine and not mine. Happy and sad. Helpful and hurtful. Male and female. Patriot and traitor. And so on through an infinite number of such oppositions by which we structure our everyday thinking-by which we wear our grooves ever deeper into the earth.
Dualistic thinking is helpful sometimes. Indeed, it seems nigh inescapable. True, every pair of oppositions implies a third term that synthesizes the opposing thesis/antithesis and so resolves them. Thus "I" and "the other" are synthesized by "we"; "male" and "female" by "human"; and so on. But as soon as we have synthesized one pair of opposites, the synthesis calls forth its own opposition: "we" versus "they" and "human" versus "nonhuman". And so duality reasserts itself. This continuous pattern of the reconciliation of opposites only to be followed by the re-establishment of a new dualistic opposition is called, in the philosophy of Hegel, the dialectic process.
Grooved thinking is dualistic thinking. It is useful sometimes, but if we abandon ourselves to it we fail to see the landscape all around us. The sides of our groove become our only view. The great problem, however, is to get out of our groove without tumbling into another, and perhaps deeper, one. The problem is to reconcile the dualistic struggle of thesis and antithesis without generating a synthesis that will only provoke its own antithesis, and thus continue the process.
We think in grooves. But we need not. Sages and saints throughout the ages have pointed the way to another kind of thinking -a grooveless, nondualistic thought process. That kind of thinking is the subject of Tom McArthur's book, Unitive Thinking. It is an old subject, but in this book it is approached in a new and fresh way.
Tom McArthur is an authority on communication and a lexicographer. He edits a magazine called English Today published by Cambridge University Press; he has written dictionaries and books about dictionaries; he is currently engaged in editing a new work, The Oxford Companion to the English Language; but he has also done books on yoga and the Bhagavad Gita. His integrated knowledge of linguistics, communication theory, and Eastern lore allows him to bring a new view to the old subject of nondualistic or, as he calls it, unitive thinking.
McArthur begins with the ancient symbol of the yin and the yang as typifying all oppositions, all dualities. We may, he says, view them as exclusive choices: either yin or yang. Or we may rise above exclusivity and say we can, indeed must, have both yin and yang. But then we have a new duality: either-or versus both-and. How do we rise above, not just a particular pair of oppositions, but all duality? How do we come to unitive thinking about the world? McArthur answers:
You get this effect by rising above or distancing yourself from the first two options. Call it "transcending" them if you wish, or think of it as more elbow room, and a refusal to be limited by one vision of how things are. At this level of understanding one has, as it were, two visions. One can (at the very least) choose to go the way of division and either/or, or go the way of cohesion with both/and.
That is the secret -allowing oneself more elbow room. Accepting alternative views, as valid, recognizing that one can go in diverse ways, and doing what is most effective in any circumstance, without preconception about what is "best" in an absolute sense.
What McArthur calls "more elbow room" others have called by other names. The modern sage Krishnamurti called it "choiceless awareness", and in a statement known as "The Golden Stairs" it is called "an open mind". It is refusing to be bound by the limitations of any one theory or view of life. It is realizing the truth of the culminating statement in The Messiah's Handbook from Richard Bach's Illusions: "Everything in this book may be wrong". It is waking up from the sleep of ordinary perception, as the Buddha became awake to the infinite possibility of reality. It is leaving the groove to look at the landscape around.
Unitive thinking involves respecting the differences we encounter in the world. Unitive thinking involves realizing the unity within ourselves and of ourselves with all others and ultimately with the All. The sense of separateness that divides us from others and that infernally fragments us is the illusory result of the limits we place on our thinking. In a sense, of course, we are separated; were it not so, the world would not be. But in another sense we are unified. Unitive thinking accepts both the separateness and the unity.
McArthur refers to Unitive Thinking as a "how-to" book. And so, in a sense, it is. But it is no ordinary, no run-of-the-mill "how-to" book. Its central idea is that unitive thinking is possible for everyone who knows how to develop it. Its purpose is to show how to go about doing just that.
Intellectually, the book ranges over Taoism, Kipling, Shiva-Shakti, yantras, maya, science fiction, time, Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, Plato, St, Thomas Aquinas, brain structure, metaphor, Darwin, Piaget, Maslow, Zen, Toynbee, cosmology, Pythagoras, Colin Wilson, Robert Pirsig, and a lot more besides. It distinguishes vertical from lateral thinking, and illustrates what the latter is by its own presentation. Its sweep embraces the wisdom of the ancients and the insights of the moderns -and it aims at making all that relevant to the here-and-now life of the reader.
Each of the ten chapters of the book ends with a few pages of "follow-up", which are puzzles, exercises, and applications of the concepts of the chapters. In one way, these follow-ups are the heart of the book. For they challenge the reader to come to grips with the ideas -not just as intellectual constructs, but as motivating impulses. Those who do these exercises will have their view of reality stretched and enhance their ability to climb out of the groove and see the landscape.
Tom McArthur writes perceptively, and also clearly and entertainingly. The book is a lively presentation of vital ideas. This is no dry-as-dust academic tome. It has no jargon. It is simple, direct, and lively. But it deals with matters that are as important and weighty as any the human mind can wrestle with. The last chapter of the book concludes with a quotation from Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that ends as follows:
If you're going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool.
A wise teacher in the last century wrote to a would-be student that to succeed, he was asked only to TRY. That's what Unitive Thinking is about -gumption and trying.
NEW WORLD, NEW MIND: Moving Toward Conscious Evolution, by Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich; Doubleday, New York, 1989.
Have you ever wondered why it is that we humans spend more than a million dollars on an international effort to save three gray whales trapped in the ice, while we pay little or no attention to the fact that thousands of people die annually on our highways? Or that we spend millions trying to apprehend a small group of terrorists who highjack a cruise ship and kill a single passenger while paying little attention to the fact that more people die each day with handguns in this country than have ever been killed by terrorists?
If these and similar anomalies puzzle you, you will find some possible explanations in New World, New Mind by Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich. In exploring the origins of such cultural contradictions, these two eminent scientists have concluded that “The human mental system is failing to comprehend the modern world . . . because our nervous system evolved to select only a small extract of reality and to ignore the rest.”
Because of the “evolutionary mismatch” between our “mental machinery” and the modern world, “many of the predicaments of our society come about from the way people respond to, simplify, and ultimately 'caricature' reality in their minds.” Pointing out that the human brain has evolved to respond to the immediate, the sudden, the different, and the obvious, the authors argue that it is not prepared to deal with the long-range, the subtle, and the similar. They claim “our brain is wired to respond to the bear in the entrance to the cave but not to the more subtle, long-range changes that could lead to nuclear war.” They compare our situation to the “boiled frog” syndrome-where a frog placed in a pan of cold water that is slowly heated will be unable to detect ,me increasing heat so that it will sit still until it dies.
This mismatch is not limited to biological evolution. In their view, “Cultural evolution has not compensated for the baggage of an outdated human perceptual system.” Indeed, they argue that “Most of us fail to realize how the human outlook, designed by our heritage, actually obstructs understanding of humanity's increasingly precarious situation . . . there is no longer sufficient time to rely on the normal pace of cultural evolution to deal with today's dilemmas” (their emphasis).
One of the authors' purposes is to help us understand the origins of our present limitations because only by recognizing “the fundamental roots of our many problems” can we resolve the “paradox that our minds are both bur curse and our potential salvation.” Almost three quarters of the book focuses on these limitations, with particular emphasis given to the limitations of what they refer to as the “old mind”-our brain, our nervous system and our senses. Highlighting the similarities between our brains and those of other primates, between human perceptions and those of the bee, butterfly, frog, and chimp, and between our nervous system and those of tasiers, frogs, chimps, an' cats, the authors conclude that our brain, like the brain of other animals, is primarily responsive to those things that we see or hear first hand rather than to evidence reported by others.
A second purpose of the book is to propose a solution to the dilemmas which have resulted from these limitations. Pointing out that the rate of change has outpaced the ability of even cultural evolution to respond appropriately, they suggest that “The time has come to take our own evolution into our hands and create a new evolutionary process, a process of conscious evolution” (their emphasis). In spite of their belief “that the world is changing faster than people can adapt to it,” they conclude that “if we learn how we think, how our mind is structured, and how to overcome the innate limitations and biases of mind, we can to a significant degree, learn how to act on that knowledge.” They propose that we “reprogram” our mental routines to “create a new mind suited to the demands of the new world.” They call this new process “newmindedness.”
Recognizing the influence that education has on the way people think, they propose a “curriculum about humanity.” Four themes seem to run throughout their proposed curriculum: “Adaptation to change must be the center of any new kind of teaching” (their emphasis); a need for the integration of all the knowledge that is being produced,” training in a “long-view, long-term understanding,” and finally, a need to “learn to depend on our instruments more than our gut feelings.”
I must confess my ambivalence about this book. On the one hand, I was fascinated by the research studies on the brain and human perception which they describe. I also found their brief overview of biological and cultural evolution useful. Their perspective gives a sharp focus to our human tendency to caricature reality by responding to the immediate, the obvious and the personal, rather than recognizing the more subtle, long-range trends which, in the end could destroy us. As an educator, I appreciated their curriculum recommendations, finding them to be both provocative and appropriate.
On the other hand, I have a fundamental problem with the narrow frame of reference from which the authors view the dilemmas which they address. Although they acknowledge that “Scientists’ penchant for simplicity. . .can lead the unwary old mind to inappropriate caricatures.. .” they have created highly selective and simplistic caricatures of both biological and cultural evolution. In short, they have reduced the vast, complex, multidimensional panorama of evolutionary history to the single dimensional caricature defined by a materialistic, empirical science.
Although they call for a new way of thinking which incorporates the “integration of all knowledge that is being produced,” they have ignored substantial bodies of knowledge which would broaden their context, strengthen their argument and enrich their conclusions. For example, there is no evidence that they are even acquainted with the literature of the so-called “paradigm shift” which seems to be occurring in our culture. The work of thinkers and writers such as Alvin Toffler, Marilyn Ferguson, Fritjof Capra, and Willis Harman are not even mentioned in their rather extensive bibliography. There is no reference to the body of knowledge which has grown out of the human potential movement which focuses on the rediscovery of intuition, peak performance, creativity, higher consciousness, and the evolution of consciousness. I don't think the word “intuition” appears in their book. It certainly is not important enough to be listed in the index.
The obviously relevant work of scientists like Karl Pribram, Rupert Sheldrake, Ilya Prigogine, John Eccles, and David Bohm is totally ignored. Finally, there seems to be no awareness of what Joseph Campbell called “the literature of the spirit,” those spiritual traditions whose perspectives reflect precisely the kind of newminded thinking which Ornstein and Ehrlich call for. While they recognize the potential of “the rational and the spiritual to support each other,” they are critical of those who use spiritual disciplines to “come to grips with the nature of their minds.”
Unfortunately, their limited perspective precludes any comprehension of the multidimensional nature of the human mind or the potential depths of the human spirit. When they call for a “new” kind of conscious evolution, they seem to be unaware of the possibility that there may be deep and fundamental intuitive processes at work in the evolution of the human mind and spirit which, having brought us to this point in time, also have prepared us with precisely those cognitive, psychic, intuitive, and spiritual capacities required to address the global dilemmas which confront us.
One consequence of the authors' limited perspective is that the reader is presented with many “half-truths” in the guise of THE truth. For example, in typical reductionist fashion, they often use the two terms “brain” and “mind” interchangeably. While they cite evidence which points to the limitations of the physical brain, they ignore equally substantive evidence which suggests that the potential of the conscious mind may be virtually unlimited. In short, they ignore the possibility that what the brain may not be “hard wired” to know, we nevertheless know intuitively. Preferring to rely on what they call “instrument flying” the authors apparently find it impossible to accept anything as scientifically unsound as “gut feelings.” Although they acknowledge that “the scientific method produces. . .an even more extreme caricature of the world than our normal one,” they seem unaware that by reducing reality to that which can be empirically measured, the extreme caricature of logical positivism may have done more to create our cultural dilemmas than the inherent limitations of the brain. There is ample evidence to support the view that both the wholistic, integrated, long-range, intuitive way of thinking and the short-range, fragmented, pragmatic way of thinking are equally intrinsic to our human mental equipment.
In spite of what I perceive to be its shortcomings, I think New World, New Mind is important reading -especially for the skeptic who prefers “hard” evidence. Writing in the empirical tradition, these two scientists open up new vistas of possibility and thinking which are both necessary and useful. I think their case would be strengthened immeasurably if they were able to recognize that “newmindedness” may well be an evolutionary way of thinking whose time has come and that what Willis Harman calls a “global mind change” may already be well advanced. What they and we need to remember is that things are seldom “either/or,” but are usually if not always “both/and.”
-EDWARD T. CLARK JR.
THE NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY IN ENGLISH, Third, Completely Revised Edition, James M. Robinson, general editor; Harper & Row, New York, 1988; hardcover, 549 pages.
The story of the study of the Gnostic tradition is the story of important archaeological discoveries. The Gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi in Egypt take their place alongside the Bruce Codex, Berlin Codex, Askew Codex, and for that matter the Dead Sea Scrolls, as among the finds that have altered accepted views of Jewish and Christian heterodox traditions of the early centuries A.D. Until the discovery and translation of such original writings of the representatives of Gnostic heterodoxy, scholars and lay persons were forced to rely on the fragmentary and biased accounts concerning Gnostics contained in the writings of the Church fathers Irenaeus (c.a. 185), Clement (c.a. 199-200), Hippolytus (c.a. 200-2251, and others of like ilk. It was rather like trying to form an accurate picture of Jewish customs and character on the basis of the pronouncements of Goebbels and Hitler!
The publication in 1977 of the entire Nag Hammadi find, in an affordable and readable English translation, was an event that will be remembered and appreciated by countless interested persons for decades to come. The updated and to some minor extent retranslated and newly annotated edition of The Nag Hammadi Library in English ten years later is living proof of the continuing, and indeed mounting interest of the public in the writings of the Gnostics, whose teachings G. R. S. Mead early in this century called “a faith forgotten.” Largely due to the persistence and enthusiasm of Dr. James M. Robinson, director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont Graduate School in California, this precious collection of original Gnostic documents (the most extensive to have appeared in all of history) has been available to the public without ever being out of print for any length of time since its first publication. The opportunities afforded contemporary students by this are considerable. For the first time Gnostic works of varying orientation can be read side by side; works of the thoroughly Christian school of Valentinus alternate with writings of the Sethian Gnostics and with initiation discourses of a Hermetic character. No wonder that the Gnostic Gospels have arrested the interest of people including scholars, science fiction writers, journalists, and feminist leaders like Gloria Steinem!
The new edition of this seminal work is in most respects a worthy successor to the earlier ones. For the most part the translations of the best known scriptures remain without major changes, though speculative readings of missing and damaged portions have diminished somewhat. Some of the lesser-known scriptures have been translated anew, and the introductions to the various tractates have been amended in many instances.
The most radical, and potentially the most controversial change from the earlier editions is the omission of the highly useful index of names and its replacement by an eighteen-page essay by one Richard Smith, whose credentials seem to be confined to his title of “managing editor” of the new edition, and whose contribution is a poor substitute for the missing index of Gnostic names. The essay, named an afterword and entitled “The Modern Relevance of Gnosticism,” suggests an appreciation of this value for today's persons of the Gnostic approach to spirituality, but in fact is nothing of the sort. Mr. Smith appears to have the attitude that anyone anywhere at anytime who has shown a positive interest in Gnosticism was either misinformed or mendacious. Edward Gibbon is judged guilty of a “mischievous lie” because he praised the Gnostics. Voltaire was dishonest when nourishing similar sentiments, and William Blake’s great sin was that he “worshipped his own creative imagination” and this personal aberration led him to Gnosticism (p. 534). The considerable attention devoted by Smith to H. P. Blavatsky (pp. 537-538) is also predominantly negative. This great esotericist is egregiously belittled because she advanced the notion of an ongoing secret tradition in history that in part goes back to the Gnostics. That noted contemporary scholars such as Mircea Eliade and Robert Ellwood agree with Blavatsky on this point seems to have escapes Mr. Smith.
One of the more peculiar comments made by Richard Smith concerns C. G. Jung, who, we are informed, “wrote so much about the Gnostics simply because he liked them” (p. 538). One wonders whether and why it might have been preferable for him to write about people whom he did not like? The essay offers no positive conclusions, and the reader is left wondering whether the impressive list of creative figures of Western culture who possessed leanings toward Gnosticism, and who are all damned with faint praise, ought to be viewed as a sort of passenger list of a ship of illustrious fools sailing along under a flag which they consistently misunderstand.
Be that as it may, the new edition of The Nag Hammadi Library, even with its peculiar afterword, testifies eloquently in favor of the proposition that Gnosticism can no longer be relegated to the realm of antiquarian curiosities. A vital tradition, vibrant with contemporary relevance and imminent possibilities, has surfaced in our view. Whatever the critics may say, the spirit of the Gnostics has returned, and it appears more than likely that this time it is here to stay.
-STEPHAN A. HOELLER
THE CHAKRAS AND THE HUMAN ENERGY FIELDS, by Shafica Karagulla, M. D., and Dora van Gelder Kunz: Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, IL, 1989; paperback, 243 pages.
This is a peculiar book, in the sense that it speaks to a concept of transformation and transmission of human energy systems that reaches back into the far history of understandings of human livingness, an understanding that arose in Eastern cultures, but the authors use one of the most sophisticated of scientific rationales of modem Western culture, neuropsychiatry, to describe the functions and activities of these superphysical centers. The descriptions of these energy vortices, called chakras in Sanskrit, are not merely theoretical; their authoritative bases are in the validity of clinical observations by one of the most percipient seers of our time, Dora van Gelder Kunz. Ms. Kunz, who was born with clairvoyant abilities. has made the study of the functional and therapeutic uses of human energies her life work. Her co-author, Dr. Shafica Karagulla, was a specialist in neuropsychiatry. After Dr. Karagulla's untimely death, Kunz completed the, manuscript for publication with the editorial assistance of Emily Sellon, editor for many years of Main Currents in Modern Thought.
Karagulla and Kunz worked together for over two decades as researcher and observer (respectively) of superphysical human energies, and sought to clarify the complex networks of interconnected energetic processes that appear to vitalize and define a human being. For the studies that form the core of their book, they systematically analyzed patients at a large and well-known medical center in New York City.
Primarily they studied the relationship between the physical energy field, called the etheric field, which transmits and thereby vitalizes the anatomical organs and structures, and the vortices within that energy field, the chakras, that are operative in transforming universal energy systems so that they are usable by the human being. These assessments were done in reference to the corresponding endocrine glands of the patient under consideration. Where relevant to the case studies, they also observed effects in the emotional and mental energy fields. The specific characteristics that they examined were in detailed reference to color, brightness, or luminosity of the energy patterns, movement and angle of energy flow, and form, elasticity, and texture of the substance of the energy field. To provide baselines for this unique study, they studied healthy persons first to determine patterns of natural human energy flow. After two years they turned their attention to examining persons who were ill.
Among the major findings of their study was the recognition that specific energetic patternings of the chakras are indicative of predispositions to particular disease processes that would appear later on in time. They also found circumstances under which some illnesses may be but the physical manifestations of pathologies that have their origins in the deeper reaches of the emotional and/or mental energy fields.
Throughout, they give ample background so that the interested layperson can clearly understand both the bases for their discussions of the data on the dynamics of the human energy fields and their relation to consciousness, and the nature of clairvoyant investigation. The net result is to give the reader a challenging insight into human potential and a discerning grasp of the decisive role that consciousness plays in health and disease and in growth and change.
To the reader with a professional interest in the human energy field, this book offers the astute inquirer several provocative questions for future research: Are there significant relationships between the human energy patterns and the genetic code? What are the inferences for genetic bioengineering? . . . hereditary illnesses?. . . therapeutic interventions?
There seem to be at least three major energy fields concerned with the physical, emotional, and mental human functions'; how are these three energy fields related in the individual? Several levels of organization are apparent in each of these three energy fields. In the emotional energy field, the coarser feelings are perceived to settle in the lower portions of this field in the individual, while the more aspiring or selfless emotions are perceived to be higher in the field, around the area of the heart. Therefore, one wonders: Are the universal laws of gravity effective in this domain?
Kunz theorizes that “. . . the astral solar plexus acts as a shock absorber between the intake of astral (emotional) energy and its dispersal through the body.” Can relevant biochemistries be tagged to test this theory? According to clairvoyant observation, severe abnormalities in the rhythmic flow and structural qualities of the chakras can presage disease; are there ways of modifying the energy patterns of individuals with such impairments to intercept progress of the disease?
Along with ideas for future research, readers with a special interest in therapeutics will find in Kunz and Karagulla's book a wealth of suggestions overflowing from these authors' careful studies of the effects on humans of environmental stimuli, such as sound and light, of the ingestion of drugs, and of surgical excision of various organs of the body.
The unusual perspective from which the context of this book derives, and the rigorous discipline that the authors forced upon themselves to present such rare information in a coherent manner that is readily understandable and yet rigorously substantiated, is exemplary for future books on these topics. It lays an excellent foundation of information about the human condition that will challenge the reader to further study of his/her personal self, as well as more formal and objective research into these phenomena. For either or both, this book is most highly recommended.
THE UPSIDE DOWN CIRCLE: Zen Laughter, by Zen Master Don Gilbert; Blue Dolphin, Nevada City, CA; paperback, 164 pages.
The Upside Down Circle helps to successfully bridge the yawning gulf between Eastern source-works in Zen and Western interpretations of it. Gilbert's book is an unusual and charming bridge to cross, due to his creative combination of original cartoon panels paired with penetrating and seasoned Zen commentary.
The Zen messages emerge from an illustrated story line in which all the characters are endearing animals who reflect human proclivities in ways that provide humor and promote appreciation and understanding. Journeying with them, the reader is treated to a remarkable variety of vistas, all potentially offering insights into the essential paradoxes of the human condition. These paradoxes are presented in a way that would seem to be immediately engaging to readers of many different backgrounds. Gilbert has thus succeeded in creating a fresh teaching approach that is both entertaining and lighthearted on one hand, and imbued with the enormous profundity of Zen on the other.
The disarming simplicity of his approach is made more effective by both the plot and characterization that he uses. The major animal characters are not just types but develop through the course of the book. The principal ones are Unk, a bloodhound who is a bumbling and yet determined seeker after the truth; his loving friend Pepito, a little mutt; Foxy, a con artist and opportunist who continually takes advantage of Unk's earnest-seeking nature for his own personal gain, and Master Woof, a bulldog who is the Zen master guiding Unk on his quest for enlightenment. In creating these characters, Gilbert has tapped into powerful archetypal forces, and through these four figures the reader can enter the mythic and eternal time beyond relative time and space.
Gilbert's story, mythically, is a classic quest narrative, the most universal and penetrating type of literary form that has for millennia moved and empowered people of virtually all cultures in the world. Unk is the questing hero, Pepito his faithful supporter, Foxy the tempter and distracter, and Master Woof the wise old man who provides guidance and inspiration to the hero on his search. The reader has the opportunity to be both vicariously involved on this story level, and also to be a more detached observer on what may be called the teaching level.
On the teaching level, the book goes through six major sections: the quest, meditation, mind, time, reality, and enlightenment. The specific Zen teachings of each section are illustrated by the episodes of Unk's path which Gilbert illuminates with a sparing and incisive commentary. What emerges is a rich artistic verbal tapestry of several layers and dimensions that points gently and yet unremittingly to the mind that is awakened to the natural state of enlightened awareness, beyond the interference of the deluded and self-centered ego. This teaching comes from a thoroughly American perspective that has drunk deeply from the universality of the Zen experience. It is a refreshingly earthy approach that places spirituality squarely in our world of relationships, and yet does not limit it in any way. Humor provides the underlying connective strands that hold it all together.
In this second book (his first being entitled Jellyfish Bones), the eighty-year-old Zen Master has brought together the best of his artwork and his teaching and created a work that is one of the first approaches to Zen that is true to the spirit of Zen and that is also an authentic American voice, unleashed from the constraints of Eastern patterns of thinking. Thus, one lasting significance of The Upside Down Circle may be that it helps mark the beginning of a new era of Zen in the West that is urgently needed today. This new era will be one in which Americans forge new ways of articulating the Dharma that are congruent with Western culture and enrich it from within, not as a foreign importation. Master Gilbert's sixty-five years of intimate involvement with Eastern teachings make him eminently qualified for this bridge-building task, and his effort, in the form of this remarkable new book, shows his capacity to bring it forth-with a hearty laugh!
JUNG: A biography, by Gerhard Wehr; translated from the German by David M. Weeks: Shambhala Publications. 1988; paperback, 548 pages.
The biographer of Jung must proceed with caution. After all, Jung's autobiography (Memories, Dreams and Reflections) details many of the inner concerns which Jung claimed composed most of what was significant in his life: times when the “imperishable world” erupted into the mundane. Jung more than hinted that the mundane events of his lie were, if not superfluous, at least subservient and easily forgotten.
Among other accomplishments, Gerhard Wehr's biography clearly demonstrates that the “mundane events” in Jung's life were both rich and varied. Wehr presents Jung as brimming with a steady vitality which perfectly complemented his more studious, introverted side. In complete accord with Jung's own principles, the “complete Jung” emerges when polarities are united: mundane and imperishable, introvert and extrovert, irascible and gentle, earthy Swiss peasant and psychological sage. As Jung himself would have expected, by bridging polarity, Wehr uncovers a mandala (and vice-versa).
A simple event-narrative could never give an accurate picture of Jung's lie. That lie was a lifework, developed via themes, projects and concerns not confined to a single period and often experienced most profoundly in solitude. A strict chronology of events might give all the facts, but it would miss the thread of meaning through which those facts become resonant.
Wehr therefore interweaves event-narrative with chapters devoted to a number of Jung's ongoing concerns or investigations (e.g., alchemy, religious questions, his confrontation with the unconscious, etc.). These chapters are presented in the order in which each theme cohered as a separate field of activity or study. In effect, Wehr interweaves time and meaning (another pair that occupied Jung for many years) and thus mirrors Jung's own concerns while presenting Jung as a man of enormous energy and integrity, great warmth and courage, and above all an inexhaustible yet circumspect generosity.
In bringing together these apparent opposites, Wehr presents the coniunctio of Jung's own lie, the alchemical union of opposites which so closely parallels the process of individuation. The reader is led (in the words Wehr uses to describe the “mysterium coniunctionis,” or “sacred marriage itself),” beyond mere intellectual knowledge to the existential nature of transformation and maturation. Nothing could be more appropriate than to present Jung on his own terms: not only does Jung himself appear more clearly, but the reader comes to a more visceral understanding of what Jung meant by the individuation process and the union of opposites.
Wehr makes it clear that the coniunctio was for Jung not only an area of study, but an inescapable aspect of human lie, manifest in his near-fatal coronary just as he began work on Mysterium Coniunctionis. This confrontation with the most mysterious pair of opposites, life and death, enabled (or forced) Jung “to know from his own ‘intuition,’ when near death, what the sacred marriage, the leitmotif of the entire work, ultimately meant!” (p. 406) The ideas in Mysterium Coniunctionis, then, were themselves a coniunctio of intimate personal experience with intellectual study. (At the same time, from a practical level, Mysterium developed from practical, therapeutic problems arising from psychological transference, prompting Jung to remark that he was guided by practical necessity, another example of the same union.)
The concern with opposites-or the need to unite them-made Jung a builder of bridges, spanning gulfs between unconscious and conscious, past and present, theory and practice, intellect and emotion, and finally, East and West. Whatever his empathy with Eastern thought, however, he remained firmly rooted in the European tradition, insisting as he did that man's spiritual growth grow from his home soil and not be imported or purchased from other cultures. Even a bridge builder lives on solid earth, not the bridge itself.
Wehr's book also remains firmly rooted in the European-Christian tradition, and this rootedness enriches even as it sets limits. The enrichment comes from Wehr's own rootedness: he writes like a man for whom the individuation process is not just someone else's theory, but an ongoing personal encounter; for whom the lode of European mysticism enriches heart and intellect alike.
His very success, however, becomes a problem. (Jung, and the sages of ancient China, would no doubt be pleased!) By demonstrating the universality of Jung's vision, Wehr casts light into shadowy rooms he does not enter; and writing from a European perspective (which, I suppose, he must), he sees the East as “other” and misses an opportunity to place Jung against a more encompassing backdrop.
The problem is unavoidable. Paradoxically it shows the great scope of Wehr's book. He not only presents the mandala of Jung's life, he points to the space on the fringes of that mandala, to the ripples caused when the peasant-mage of Bollingen dropped into the world. A writer often succeeds most when he illuminates his own limitations. Success and failure become irrelevant: this is a remarkable book.