Book Reviews 1994

Cosmic Consciousness REVISITED: The Modern Origins and Development of a Western Spiritual Psychology by Robert M. May; Element Books, Rockport, Mass., 1993; paper.

This is a significant work on mystical experience, carefully researched and including biographies of each figure included. The author experienced cosmic consciousness himself at the age of twenty, an occurrence that launched a person al quest for answers.

May hoped in vain to find answers in his academic studies in psychology and philosophy. He then turned to study with spiritual masters, efforts that inspired his earlier book Physicians of the Soul (1982). Then he turned to Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness, published in Canada in 1902. A considerable portion of May's book is devoted to Bucke's life and this earlier work, along with that of William James' Varieties 0/ Religious Experience.

Though an admirer of Bucke's philosophy, May has some difficulty accepting his optimistic view of the evolutionary development of humanity and of religion. May compares Bucke's stages of the development of consciousness to the theories of Jean Piaget, and asserts that Piaget, Freud, B. F. Skinner, and Noam Chomsky have all stopped short by ignoring the final step in the development of consciousness, cosmic consciousness, or the “Brahmic Splendor” of the East.

Each of the schools of psychology is included in this book, beginning with the stimulus-response psychology of John B. Watson, which May calls “soulless behaviorism.” May also finds that the determinism of Pavlov and Skinner “disposed of religion,” worshipping at the throne of scientism. On the other hand, the recovery of consciousness has come with the refutation of behaviorism. Figures familiar to most readers of The Quest and acclaimed by May are Rupert Sheldrake, whose concept of morphogenetic fields May calls “the most innovative theory in biology since Darwin,” and David Bohm, whom May describes as “an enlightened physicist” whose language resembles that of the great mystics.

May credits Carl Jung with esoteric understanding of the psyche, even though Jung disparaged cosmic consciousness.

An interesting comparison is made by May of the first meeting between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and the first meeting between Whitman and Bucke. As to Gurdjieff’s theoretical “objective consciousness,” or fourth stage of consciousness, May finds it the very same as Bucke's cosmic consciousness. Either is the same as enlightenment, according to May.

As to Abraham Maslow, May finds that the “peak experience” bears little resemblance to Bucke's cosmic consciousness or to mystical experience as described by Evelyn Underhill.

Related theories referred to in May's book include those of Claudio Naranjo, Jean Houston, Teilhard de Chardin, Roberto Assagioli, and Victor Frankl -along with near-death researchers Kenneth Ring and Raymond Moody.

May rounds out his work with an evaluation of the spontaneous mystical experience. He states that humanity has come full circle with the new-old paradigm of cosmic consciousness, and offer s ten con temporary instances. His book will hold interest for readers familiar with Bucke's book as well as those wishing to delve into the background of this realm of human experience.

Spring 1994

The Making of a Mystic: Seasons in the Life of Teresa of Avila by Francis L. Gross, Jr., with Toni Perior Gross; State University of New York Press, 1993.

The approach to the life of Teresa taken in this book has an aliveness and a n immediacy that are often missing from biography, especially when the biography reaches back as many hundreds of years as this one. Imagine a biography of Teresa beginning, "Truman Capote once wrote…"

It works, and exceedingly well. This is an engaging and provocative study.

Francis L. Gross is professor of religion at Western Michigan University, and approaches religious subjects from the perspective of developmental psychology. His wife Toni Perior Gross is a psychotherapist in private practice. They use psychological tools drawn from Piaget, Freud, and Jung, by way of Erik Erikson, Robert Coles, Lawrence Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, James Fowler, and others.

Erikson's biographies of Luther and Gandhi and Coles' studies of Dorothy Day and Simone Weil modeled the approach taken here. In looking at Teresa's life, the authors have drawn remark able parallels with Maurice Sendak's Max, J. D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Sylvia Plath, and others.

Of Teresa, they say, "She is by turns a coquette, a housewife, stern, compassionate, a banker, a mystic, an organizer, a solitary. We have found her to be the kind of person who cuts across male and female stereotypes and archetypes."

If she had a dark side, the authors conclude, it would be in terms of willfulness: "I thought of her running off to the Moors at age seven, of her being packed away to the convent boarding school in her teens, of her clandestine slipping off to join the Carmelites against her father's will at twenty. I thought furthermore of her tried and true method of making new foundations by buying a house in secret, moving her new nuns in by night, and confronting the local authorities the next day with a fait accompli and a charm that somehow managed to let her get away with such brass, boldness and, you have to say it, duplicity. We have a strain of willfulness and charm that runs through Teresa's life from the time she was two until her death at sixty-seven."

As the book states, she defied male/female stereo types; the "willfulness," one might observe, would be "determination" in a man. She got things done.

The book is organized in three sections -the first tracing her story from childhood through adolescence, adulthood, and old age; the second describing her family background and the Spanish situation; and the third taking up various themes of her life, such as "the journey to her own voice," psychology and prayer, and her playfulness.

Spring 1994

The Spiritual Athlete, compiled and edited by Ray Berry; Joshua Press, P.O. Box 213, Olema, CA 94950, 1992; paperback, 352 pages.

Since religion is the most prominent manifestation of ethnicity, understanding other people's faith traditions is a healthy step toward appreciating the diverse ethnic heritages constituting modern American society. In The Spiritual Athlete Ray Berry shatters the prejudicial barriers separating nationalities, cultures, and creeds. Delving for the common element that unites humanity, he explains:

Even a cursory study of the religions of the world will reveal that among them there exist certain differences in dogma, ritual, and creed. But looking further, we discover a connecting unity, a common thread of truth, running through all faiths.

Like Theseus on Crete, Berry has followed this three-millennia-long thread through the labyrinth of human civilization. The common thread is spiritual experience.

Berry introduces us to nearly two dozen outstanding spiritual figures, famous and obscure, ancient and modern, traditional and heretical. They are Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis, and people whose religions defy simplistic taxonomy. Rather than discussing the conflicting theological systems, The Spiritual Athlete introduces the religious experience as universal.

In addition to biographical sketches of well-known figures such as Henry David Thoreau, Lao Tzu, and Plotinus, Berry has included many lesser-known individuals. The simple faith of a freed slave, Sojourner Truth; the eremitic life of Japanese monk Yoshida Kenko, and the peaceful quietism of German ribbon weaver Ger hart Tersteegen confer on this book a rare charm.

Berry himself is a thirty-year member of the Vedanta Society. Like the Vedanta philosophy, which emphasizes the oneness of being, his book seeks to uncover the single spiritual Truth beneath the multifaceted surfaces of all religions. The two forms of spirituality-ascetic and sensual - found in the book are part and parcel of the athlete's training. The athlete, spiritual or otherwise, must discipline his body and at the same time cherish it. As Sufi mystic Rabi'a admonishes, "Curb your desires and control yourself." But as Rabbi Bunim points out, "there is more than one path leading to God, but the surest goes through joy and not through tears."

Spring 1994

The Transcendental Universe: Six Lectures on Occult Science, Theosophy, and the Catholic Faith by C. G. Harrison, edited with an Introduction by Christopher Bamford; Lindisfame Press, 1993; paper.

Startling occult machinations may have underlaid - in fact, distorted-the efforts of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to found the Theosophical Society in America, argues C. G. Harrison, an independent American occultist who presented his controversial research findings in a series of lectures in 1893 to the Berean Society of London. Harrison, 38 at the time, presented himself as a self-initiated, unaffiliated Christian esotericist who, through his own clairvoyance, had made various discoveries "be hind the veil" of public knowledge and misinformed speculation regarding the manipulative power plays of the various secret lodges of Europe and America in the nineteenth century. H. P. Blavatsky -literally a "born" troublemaker, as her astrological natal chart indicated to the prescient-was at the center of it all. In fact, Harrison explains, for nearly a decade, she was imprisoned in a "wall of psychic influences" that paralyzed her higher activities, generating "a kind of spiritual sleep characterized by fantastic visions." One of these was the experiential illusion that she had in fact spent time in Tibet with the Masters when, Harrison claims, she never left Nepal and had been deceived by metaphysical impostors. Even so, "Madame Blavatsky emerged from 'prison' a Tibetan Buddhist and the prophetess of a new religion" called Theosophy.

These are serious claims indeed and must be put into perspective. Without question, The Transcendental Universe is an exceptionally valuable work that fills in certain aspects of the hidden history of our time; after all, Blavatsky's Theosophy is generally regarded as one of the primary seeds of our late twentieth century's "new age" and its metaphysical aspirations. Harrison's lectures - which cover an astonishing range of interests including angelic hierarchies, secret brotherhoods, the mystery of evil, the War in Heaven, the nature of initiates, the importance of the Christ – were originally published and basically ignored in 1893. They shouldn't have been, because, according to editor Christopher Bamford, Harrison's lectures on the implications of Theosophy embody "courage and daring, remarkable coherence, impartiality, compassion, and wisdom." They integrate "occult knowledge of a very high order into reasoned, intelligent cultural discourse, also of a very high order"- a rare enough accomplishment in any age.

Bamford himself deserves high praise for his penetrating " Introduction," which lucidly sketches the probable history of European secret societies back to the Renaissance and profiles some of the dubious lodge members who may have worked the levers of the nineteenth century's most active occult brotherhoods, most conspicuous among which was the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. I Bamford provides an additional forty-five pages of notes and bibliography that put all the names, societies, dates, and metaphysical concepts at our fingertips-a great service to the reader.

Without preempting the richness of Harrison's insider's view, this is a brief sketch of events as he claims they happened. Around 1840, the various occult lodges of Europe perceived that Western culture had arrived at the point of " physical intellectuality," or extreme materialism. Lodge members, who for centuries had withheld from the public spiritually valuable information about the transcendental realms behind the physical world, decided upon an experiment. They would use psychics and mediums to provide the Western mind a startling glimpse into the unseen world of causes, energies, and influences; through this they hoped to leaven the evolutionary dead end of materialism. In other word s, they deliberately launched what became known as Spiritualism, a wildfire phenomenon that spread throughout Europe and America between 1850 and 1880, culminating in the founding of the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875 as an epistemological corrective for Spiritualism's wild excesses. Not long into the experiment those lodge members most concern ed with humanity's positive evolution saw their attempt to spiritualize culture had failed; everybody misconstrued the phenomena and thought they were conversing with the spirits of the dead when in fact it had been the living lodge members working astrally through the mediums. Lodges with more self-centered notions of their charter deliberately continued the ruse to further their own obstructive agenda, creating further confusion and misattribution that continues to this day.

Blavatsky- full of "wild eccentricity and almost willful freedom of spirit," says Bamford - was onto them and threatened to blow the whistle on their unwholesome activities.  According to Harrison, a consortium of American brotherhoods decided to stop Blavatsky by casting a nasty "spell" on her, employing a form of rarely used black magic to wrap Blavatsky in a self-delusive veil-an "occult imprisonment"-in which she mistakenly believed all manner of events to be real, such as her contact with the Mahatmas in Tibet. It was only by cutting a deal with Hindu occultists that she would essentially favor their philosophies in her Theosophy that she was released from this psychic prison. These facts, Harrison claims, somewhat qualify Blavatsky's credentials, though he admits she should be regarded as "more sinned against than sinning." Her faults, says Harrison, are numerous: she was unaware of the true sources of her inspiration, the "instrument in the hands of unscrupulous persons"; on intellectual grounds her Secret Doctrine is "exceedingly faulty" and severely "tinctured and pervaded by her personality"; she perverted facts when they didn't fit her grand scheme; and "her sectarian animus in favor of any and every non-Christian religious system (Judaism alone excepted) all combine to render her a most unsafe guide to the Higher Wisdom." To be fair, Harrison praises Blavatsky for her "vigorous intellect," her enormous capacity for assimilating knowledge, regarding her as "a medium of a very exceptional kind," as a unique psychic personality gifted with second sight and copious energy.

Harrison's allegations of veiled events underlying the foundation of Theosophy will both annoy and elucidate readers, provoke and inform, spark controversy while illuminating shadows, as any important book ought to, and we're grateful for the opportunity, however unsettling, to reconsider the matter that the centennial reissue of this book affords.

Summer 1994

The Healing Path: A Soul Approach to Illness by Marc Ian Barasch; Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1994; hardcover, 432 pages.

When Marc Barasch once caught himself shaming his daughter into doing her homework, he noticed that she withdrew into herself. She told him that it hurt her to be spoken to like that and made her want to leave her body. He was shocked to see that she had doodled a head torn from a torso, gushing blood, and he recalled his own similar childhood pain. For him it was a metaphor of the dissociation of mind from body that often occur s when we are made to feel uncomfortable about our selves. This theme is pervasive in Barasch's new book, The Healing Path: A Soul Approach to Illness.

A former editor of New Age Journal, Barasch has spent the past seven years gathering research in an effort to understand the nature of health and the role played by the medical and social communities. With a foreword by Bernie Siegel, this book is a comprehensive guide that is essential reading for anyone interested in health issues.

Barasch himself was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Desperate to get well again, but troubled by physicians' advice, he decided to check out the available alternatives. He also made an appointment for surgery, just in case. When he lost his nerve on the way to a rather unorthodox treatment in Brazil, he had the surgery and then wondered if he had made the right decision. The ambiguity plagued him enough to take on the immense project of exploring the world of illness and treatment. What he discovered will alternately anger, amaze, annoy, frighten, and encourage readers who are fed up with the tradition al Western belief that care of the body is rather mechanical while care of the mind is an unnecessary luxury.

One of the most disheartening aspects of illness is how isolating it can be: sympathetic friends often say the wrong things, while others simply leave or withhold their support. A life-threatening illness like cancer or AIDS draws the victim into another sphere. Faced with issues of mortality, one is never quite the same, and the people who were part of one's former realm of health may be unable to cope with the change. Yet a healing community is a significant factor in surviving a disease or increasing life expectancy. Thus, not only do the "journeyers" - people who go forth to encounter their disease rather than struggling to return to the "normal"- have to deal with the greatest challenge of their lives, they often have the added burden of finding new friends as well. Many people in Barasch's study lost the support of loved ones who could not accept the way they chose to fight their illness.

Barasch tackles these issues and others as he struggles to interpret the phenomena of healing. It is clear to him that a "one size fits all" philosophy, characteristic of our culture, makes little sense. A particular diet shrank one person's tumor; for another, it took intensive psychotherapy; for yet another, it was merely the belief in a medical breakthrough. Barasch believes in the wisdom of an integrated approach: don 't dismiss any angle. However, he makes it clear that one must become aware of one's potential emotional involvement in the onset and form of an illness, because therein may lie the key to healing. Although Barasch dismisses theories that find blame, he presents enough cases to indicate that early influences in the formation of our personalities may make us vulnerable to certain types of diseases. Healing, then, involves restoring communication with the self.

What makes this book so readable while also informative are the metaphors of illness and healing from familiar stories such as The Wizard of Oz and A Christmas Carol. Barasch effectively weaves them with research from psychoneuroimmunology to make the complex notion of immune defenses accessible and memorable. The reader is more likely to identify with the Tin Man's story than with scientific jargon. Barasch also makes frequent use of dreams as harbingers of illness and companions in healing. Although some of his interpretations may seem ad hoc, many correlation s are too startling to be dismissed.

Whichever way one chooses to go, it is best to be informed and thus wise; Barasch's book, although slanted toward the alternatives, offers a wealth of information about illness and treatment that should be considered on the path to healing.

Summer 1994

Evolution's End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence by Joseph Chilton Pearce; Harper San Francisco, 1992; hardcover.

In the introduction to Evolution's End, Joseph Chilton Pearce states that his real thesis is the magnificent open-ended possibility of our higher structures of brain/mind, the nature of our unfolding, and what we can do about it. Primarily, Pearce is concerned with how humanity can improve its evolutionary process, particularly by changing our approach to child development. Actually, he finds very little in this area that does not need alteration, frequently through a return to former practices in childbirth and child rearing.

This book is a sequel to The Crack in the Cosmic Egg (1971), one of three previously published works.Pearce lectures internationally on intelligence, creativity, and learning.

Pearce defines what he terms the "cerebral universe" as shared by all, and contends that personal experience is formed by the individual brain/mind as it translates from the universal field. He perceives the evolutionary process as developing from infancy and holding potential of awesome proportion and scope, unless it is led astray and thus ceases prematurely. Unfortunately, Pearce believes, common practices with children before the age of fifteen are inhibiting the process.

In his view, the heart of the individual plays a role in the evolutionary process, with an intelligence that should ideally unfold at adolescence and that can move us away from destructiveness. This process is global as well as personal. Pearce frequently comments on his own practice of meditation and his meditation teacher, who has told him that "only the heart can develop intellect that lies outside and beyond brain systems."

Pearce proposes that the neural fields (linked neurons) of our brain are "the median between the wave-field and particle displayed." Mind and matter are two aspects of one whole, as postulated by the physicist David Bohm (to whom Pearce dedicated this book), and the particle displayed is as we see it. Quoting the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Ilya Prigogine; the author points out that whatever we call reality is actually what is revealed to us, and that it all derives from the "cosmic soup" of physical, emotional, and intellectual experience.

The triune brain is described as evolutionary, beginning with the reptilian or R-system (or core brain), then evolving to the old mammalian or limbic system, and eventually to the new mammalian or human brain. The author relates these to the three orders of energy described by Bohm (the implicate order, the supra-implicate order, and the explicate order). Pearce refers frequently to Eastern thought and shows parallels with scientific understanding. Also, he compares Rupert Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields to Vedic Samskara and finds both demonstrating stabilization of the field effect.

Central to Pearce's argument is his contention that a failure to establish the "infant-mother heart bond " can lead to loss of intelligence, love, care, and nurturing leaving the individual in "a gross defensive reptilian world," the lowest level of development. Mother-child bonding is interfered with, according to Pearce, by five practices commonly encountered today: hospital childbirth, day care, television, premature formal education, and synthetic growth hormones in various foods. These practices represent "the disaster of the twentieth century" by interfering with the culmination of three billion years of evolution, and this can lead to evolution's end, according to Pearce. Procedures that are widely considered modern enlightened practices are actually a "most destructive force" contributing to suicides, drug abuse, and family breakups.

Pearce also expresses concern for nourishing the child’s intuition and imagination through storytelling, family play, and conversation (rather than television). These are the foundations of the child's creative intelligence, and all of these together should lead to "great expectations" during the child's adolescent years. But Pearce warns that development after the age of fifteen depends upon the earlier years during which the ego-self forms.

The writing is powerful and fearless and utilizes research of twentieth-century scientists convincingly. Most readers will not agree with all of Pearce's firm recommendations on child development, but will recognize that the twentieth century is nearing its end with dire evidence of the need for personal and social change. The proposals in this book, which signal a need for total change in family lifestyle, should be seriously considered.

Summer 1994

Three Books of Occult Philosophy By Henry Comelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, edited and annotated by Donald Tyson; Llewellyn Publications, Saint Paul, MN, 1994; paper, 938 pages.

When he delivered his massive manuscript to the Antwerp printers in 1531, Henry Cornelius Agrippa was a little concerned that his. reading public would mistake him for a sorcerer since his subject was magic. After all, what this 45-year-old occultist was seeking to publish would be nothing less than the Renaissance's definitive handbook on all aspects of the Western esoteric tradition, from Kabbalah to medicine, astrology to herbalism, geomancy to angelology. Nor was it a book he was rushing into print, following a weekend 's illumination. He had written an early draft of it back in 1509 when he was all of twenty-five.

But now, two decades later, he wanted to assure his readers-and these would stretch across the next five centuries to our present generation - that to be a magician signified that one was not a conjurer or practitioner of forbidden arts, but rather a wise man, priest. and prophet. That said, he hoped his reader would receive "no little profit and much pleasure" from his efforts, providing they have as much "discretion of prudence as bees have in gathering honey." But if the "judicious" reader also learned how to destroy sorceries, turn away evil events, cure diseases, extirpate phantasms, preserve life, honor, and fortune, all the better, for these, too, are both profitable and necessary, said Agrippa.

As occultists and scholars have appreciated in the centuries since its first publication, Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy, drawing on Greek, Egyptian, Jewish. Roman, and Arabic esoteric sources, probably the most complete digest of pagan and Neo-platonic magical practice ever compiled. What makes this old fact a new publishing event in the mid-1990s is the prodigious editing work of Donald Tyson, a well-known writer on magical themes and guidebooks.

Llewellyn Publications are to be congratulated and thanked for undertaking such a huge but hugely necessary task of making Agrippa accessible and affordable to a large reading public. For too long, as Tyson explains. Agrippa's invaluable book on "the Art" was difficult and costly to obtain, and those editions that were available were marked by so many mistakes dating back to the first translations, that many important operations and correspondences in magic have long been misconstrued.

Tyson reconstructed and redrew nearly all the charts and tab les to correct mistakes. He documents, footnotes. explains, and amplifies Agrippa; in numerous special appendices Tyson gives the biographies of all the notables mentioned by Agrippa; and in eight supplementary chapters he explains magic squares, the elements, humours, geomancy, and practical Kabbalah. In his breadth of reference and precision of detail, Tyson nearly outdoes the old magus himself.

Tyson is not boasting when he declares to the reader that while this work was a "great labor" and "monumental task," it offers the serious reader "a graduate degree in Renaissance magic." This was evidently Agrippa's intention. because he leads the reader through a fund of accumulated knowledge from neoclassical and Hebraic occultism as it was understood in the early sixteenth century.

Agrippa 's scope was encyclopedic, but inherently fated to be incomplete. "Agrippa knew he could never compress the entire literature of magic into a single volume, so he pointed the way. The reader will derive inestimable profit in following his discretion," Tyson says.

Is Agrippa worth bothering with in our metaphysically profligate 1990s? With all our freelance "new age" psychics and channeled occultists, does a Renaissance text on magic offer us anything new? Most certainly. It gives us the source of this so called newness, which is nothing more than a little initiatory knowledge seeping into the awareness of a comparatively mass audience. In his three books, Agrippa gives us a touchstone, a standard reference source, and the bedrock of a perennial tradition that has seen yet another copious re-flowering in our own time. For anyone even a little familiar with the true root s of the art of magic. this book is doubly indispensable; for those new to the field. this is an excellent and metaphysically reliable starting point for a deep investigation. Even though it is generally inappropriate for an author to pitch his own book in this way, we can forgive Tyson for saying that "n o true student of the Art can afford not to possess this book."

The fact of the perdurability of this classic text raises an interesting question. Are we today more sophisticated than occultists and magical scholars of Agrippa's time? Or are we dilettantes, no better than those Monday morning mystics Agrippa dismissed as being satisfied with the "superficial and vulgar" account of the stars, their influences and manipulation s, those content with touching the "outside" of philosophy?

Agrippa wrote for those wanting the insider's track on occult philosophy., those who know that knowledge of the Art, both theoretical and practical, enables one, as Agrippa 's English translator in 1651 noted, to "operate wonderful things" that are "effected by a natural power," and to do so "without either offence to God or violation of religion." Surely we can't go wrong today with that sober approach.

Autumn 1994

Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man by Bryan Appleyard; Doubleday, New York, 1992; xvii + 269 pages, hardcover.

Human history, in the Theosophical view, is patterned like a great spiral, consisting of seven cycles. Each cycle includes seven subcycles, each subcycle has seven sub-subcycles, and so on. During each cycle and subcycle, one of the seven aspects of human consciousness is being developed, unfolded from latency to greater activity. When the spiral reaches its last turn, human beings will have developed as completely as is possible in our current world period.

At the present time, we are in our fifth cycle and its fifth subcycle. During this time, the human mind (the fifth aspect of consciousness) is the focus of our evolution. This is also a time when the fifth ray of life is dominant in our society, and that is the ray of science. So we live in a time of intellect and science. That Theosophical view of contemporary human culture will hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has thought about modern life.

In his recent book, Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man, Bryan Appleyard examines the consequences of this scientific dominance. Appleyard is a correspondent for the London Sunday Times who writes on science, philosophy, and the arts. His thesis is simple. He argues that for all its magnificent accomplishments, which have transformed our lives, science has a blind spot - it has nothing to say about values, meanings, and purposes.

The overwhelming philosophical impact of science was the separation of knowledge from value. Indeed, this seems to be what ensures its success. For science is, of necessity, dynamic. It requires always the possibility of experimental refutation and a permanent process of skepticism about its own findings. But, if we attach a value to one particular view, then either the process is paralyzed or the value is vulnerable to overthrow…Science is always restless and always destructive of any attempt to freeze its conclusions into a more than scientific truth. (p. 62)

Scientists, however, being human beings, tend to devalue whatever they can say nothing about. And thus ironically science becomes not merely neutral, but inimical to values. "Science begins by saying it can answer only this kind of question and ends by claiming that these are the only questions that can be asked" (p. 234). Yet value, meaning, and purpose are central to human life. To deny them is to create an intellectual and social crisis. We are Dr. Frankenstein, and science is the monster we have made.

Appleyard points out that science is not just an abstract intellectual game scientists play. The rules of this game mold the way we think about the world and ourselves. And through its practical application in technology, it has transformed our everyday lives. Consider technology: scientific theory made possible the development of automobiles, jet airplanes, and space capsules; television, computers, and the electronic information superhighway; vaccinations, organ transplants, and genetic engineering; massive food production and marketing. artificial fibers, and so on through practically every aspect of contemporary life.

In addition to revolutionizing our material culture. the metaphysics of science has also, Appleyard believes, transformed our social lives. Out of the scientific view of the nature of knowledge and the search for knowledge, grew the liberal democratic theory of government , which is the ideal of our time. In it, the function of government is to maintain order, plurality. and tolerance, without convictions about the transcendent values of human life. The message it conveys, however, is that citizens need not be concerned about those values either. And so increasingly we have a loss of social coherence and commitment.

This dominant scientific mindset, which sees all truth as relative, is fundamentally incompatible with religion, which is concerned with absolutes and values. We want the benefits of science, but they involve the subversion of religious absolutes. "We all want penicillin and we all must pay for it in roughly the same way," says Appleyard (p.8):

Science transports the entire issue of life on earth from the realm of the moral or the transcendent to the realm of the feasible. This child can be cured, this bomb can be dropped. "Can" supersedes "should"; "ability" supersedes "obligation"; "No problem!" supersedes "love."

When meaning is devalued, human life becomes meaningless, and the old medieval disease of acedia becomes endemic:

The pessimism, anguish, skepticism and despair of so much twentieth-century art and literature are expressions of the fact that there is nothing "big" worth talking about anymore, there is no meaning to be elucidated. (p.11)

There is an old academic joke that specialists are people who know more and more about less and less, until finally they know everything about nothing. If for "nothing," we read "nothing of value," we have Appleyard's thesis, and Wittgenstein's:

"We feel," wrote the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, "that even when all possible scientific Questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched." (p.15)

Appleyard develops his thesis by a Cook's tour of the history of science from 1609, when Galileo peeped at the moon through his telescope, through the villains of his plot-Descartes, Newton, Darwin, and Freud - down to contemporary efforts to correct the scientific and technological lacuna from within. Those efforts consist of the ecological movement; the mystifying (not to say mystical) theories of relativity, the quantum, and chaos; and the work of scientists who are pushing the boundaries of classical science, such as Robert Dicke's Anthropic Principle, Rupert Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields, and David Bohm's implicate order.

We are not willing to give up science and its benefit s, nor should we. But on the other hand, we cannot give up the religious impulse either:

It is clear that there is something about the human condition that demands a dimension we call religious, whatever it might be. Particular faiths have come and gone, but nothing has ever displaced the religious presence itself from human life. It has always accompanied men and their cultures. (p.80)

This religious dimension is the quest for value , meaning, and purpose. It got tied into knots by Descartes, who thought of the human self as an "isolated, thinking thing, trapped in yet separate from the body" (p.227). Appleyard sees those knots as untied by Wittgenstein's insight that there is no private language, so there is no separate, isolated cogitation.

He [the human being] cannot isolate himself and his words from the public realm of language. He must have language before he can have the concept of a sensation. There cannot be such a thing as a private language because language is, by definition, a public thing. (p.227)

Appleyard has identified a problem in modern life. His solution will not satisfy all his readers, and indeed the premier British scientific periodical Nature has called this "a very dangerous book." However, the Appleyard solution can be given a Theosophical slant that brings it into harmony with the Wisdom Tradition.

As Appleyard says, the everyday languages we speak are by definition public thing s. They are also the surface, outer, or exoteric expressions of a deep, inner, or esoteric mental structure. That inner structure is not an individual thing either, but is the common property of all humanity, being derived ultimately from the universal mind, which is the divine intelligence.

Although in our present stage of evolution, the human mind is dominant and science is our primary mode of understanding, we have other aspects of consciousness within us with different fields of operation. A person who can see, but does not hear, taste, smell, or feel, has a limited view of the world. To rely exclusively on the mind and science is just as limiting. The hum an goal is to develop all aspects of consciousness and all our faculties to their fullest , but also to develop them harmoniously with each other.

It is not anti-intellectual or anti-scientific to point out that intellect and science are incomplete views of the world. It is not anti-religious to point out that science and reason are invaluable ways of knowing reality. The Cartesian dualism is false; we are not souls in bodies, but unified beings with varied aspects. We are not isolated entities, but beings who communicate within a community. Knowledge is not fragmented; there is a synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy. It is called by many names. One of them is Theosophy.

Autumn 1994

Postmodern Ethics by Zygmunt Bauman; Blackwell, Oxford, U.K., and Cambridge, U.S. , 1993; hardcover, paper, 253 pages.

The Morality of Pluralism by John Kekes; Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1993; hardcover, 227 pages.

Moral issues, that is to say. personal moral issues, have dominated the news in recent years to a remark able degree, often obscuring consideration of larger (presumably boring) issues. And given the proliferation of polls-daily, even hourly-measuring our attitudes (up? down? who's in? who's out?) on matters of public policy-making, what can one say but that we the body politic are... well, ambivalent.

As Zygmunt Bauman declares in his new book Postmodern Ethics," Human reality is messy and ambiguous- and so moral decisions, unlike abstract ethical principles, are ambivalent" (Bauman, 32). Moral decisions are made personally and intuitively, while the impact of those decisions is so removed from our view as to render moral surety an absurdity.

And John Kekes, at the outset in his new book. The Morality of Pluralism, asserts that "The sea of moral conflicts threatens to drown us," but quickly adds that the moral confusion of our time "is not caused by the shrinking of morality" (Kekes, 6).

Indeed both liberals and conservatives are morally engaged , according to Kekes, though their moral concerns tend to be different. "Liberals tend to be morally concerned about equality. sexual freedom, capital punishment, and commercialism; conservatives tend to direct moral attention to the family, social order. and the free market. " But Kekes worries that "informed moral debate is disappearing from our society. In its place. we have cynical or despairing indifference or an assertive shrillness masquerading as moral indignation" (Kekes, 7).

Zygmunt Bauman is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Leeds. John Kekes is Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the State University of New York. Their books, read in tandem. are a bracing antidote to the odd combination of moral judgment and cynicism to which we are subjected by 1990s "newsmagazines" and television.

What makes moral decision-making so troubling in our time is that "The scale of consequences our actions may have dwarfs such moral imagination as we may possess. It also renders impotent the few, but tested and trustworthy ethical rules we have inherited from the past and are taught to obey" (Bauman, 18).

We can, as Bauman notes, do harm by inadvertence, by ignorance rather than design. Our moral rules of thumb are no longer adequate. If ethicists in the past have sought to discover universal values, that surely is no longer the case. An aside: when I wrote my doctoral dissertation some fifteen years ago. I was unable to find more than one or perhaps two working ethicists who had any confidence in the idea of fixed rules of what is right or wrong capable of being applied to all situations. Pretty much everyone in the field of moral philosophy had become, whether they liked the term or not (and often they didn't), a "situation ethicist.” Yet to day we seem to be overwhelmed in public conversation by the anger of those who are convinced they know, absolutely, what is right and what is wrong.

Against those who preach universalism today we have what Bauman calls the "communitarians" who find the "retreat from the cold and abstract territory of universal moral values into the cosy and homely shelter of 'native community' exceedingly tempting; many would find the seduction irresistible" (p. 43). Everywhere in the world we see ethnic conflict rising in the dissolution of the "two great powers" view of the world , and the United Nations is challenged as never before in dozens of theaters around the world.

Morality is not universalizable, Bauman asserts, because it does not possess purpose, or reciprocity, or contractual characteristics - and it is "endemically and irredeemably non -rational" (Bauman, 60). Morality at its foundation is an impulse non-rational and not calculable. Indeed, Bauman says, "I am moral before I think" (Bauman, 61).

Asserting the solitude of the moral subject, Bauman says that morality is antithetical to society's rules and laws. "Philosophers and the administrators of order alike" distrust the moral impulse as too unreliable, too uncertain . a situation in which "everything may happen" (Bauman, 62 ff).

Because of this solitude, saints, as Bauman notes, are unique; that is, they do things others shirk. They act out of conscience, beyond sheer decency and the call of duty. And , perhaps most import ant, they do these things because they demand them of themselves, while not demanding them of others.

Love, the basis for all moral consideration, is chronically uncertain. Baum an says. This uncertainty leads to two basic human strategies- fixation and flotation. Fixation substitutes rules and routines for love, considering love, sympathy and other sentiments "too unreliable and costly to ground a secure relationship" (Bauman, 98). Flotation, on the other hand, is "the medicine against love's undependability" in which a relationship is entered for its own sake and continues so long as both parties feel it delivers enough satisfaction to stay (Bauman, 104).

Ultimately, life's only certainty is death, for ".. . only death is unambiguous, and escape from ambivalence is the temptation of Thanatos" (Bauman, 109).

In a chapter titled "Private Morals, Public Risks," Bauman considers what really is the central problem for moral thinking today - that our morality is inherited from pre-modern times, and is a "morality of proximity," and therefore "woefully inadequate in a society in which all important action is an action on distance" (Bauman, 217).

In the end , as in the beginning, Bauman asserts the ambiguity of moral decision making  and the futility of imagining a universal morality. "Moral responsibility is the most personal and inalienable of human possession s, and the most precious of human rights." It is "unconditional and infinite, and it manifests itself in the constant anguish of not manifesting itself enough" (Bauman, 250). We must place our bet, he says, on "that conscience which, however wan, alone can instill the responsibility for disobeying the command to do evil."

Kekes begins his book with an analysis of "six theses of pluralism" : (I ) the plurality and conditionality of values; (2) the unavoidability of conflicts; (3) the approach to reasonable conflict-resolution; (4) the possibilities of life; (5) the need for limits; (6) the prospect s for moral progress. Then he devote s a chapter to each, and follows with considerations of moral, person al, and political implications of pluralism.

His conviction is that "good lives require a balance among a plurality of values, and that the balance depend s on resolving conflicts among them." Furthermore, it is the state 's job "to protect all the procedural and substantive values necessary for all good lives and . second, make it possible for citizens to pursue, within appropriate limits, such secondary values as they may require" (Kekes, 213).

If Bauman leaves us with the insecurity of knowing that we are destined to grapple with moral ambiguity throughout any but utopian time, then Kekes attempts to show how we can bring the desire to live good lives into the public arena, ambiguity or not. These are both outstanding books that bear close reading and considerable reflection.

Winter 1994

Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, reprint of  the original Philosophical Library 1946 edition; Crystal Clarity Publications; paper, 481 pages.

The Autobiography a Yogi is one of the greatest classics of spiritual literature published in the Western world. It is the life story of Paramahansa Yogananda, the great yogi and saint who came from India to the United States in 1920, having been directed by his teacher to bring Yoga to the West. He became the central figure promoting yogic spirituality in this country for more than thirty years until his death in 1952. The book has changed the lives of thousands of people.

Here we have a special reprint of the original edition first published in 1946. Yogananda himself made a few minor changes in 1951, and Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), the organization established by him, was responsible for subsequent editions. SRF made a number of changes through the years, including not only many footnotes. but some notable deletions and additions as well.

The present reprint has been done under the auspices of Ananda, a group of spiritual communities organized under the inspiration of Sri Kriyananda, one of Yogananda's chief disciples and former head monk and vice-president of SRF, who disassociated from that organization in 1962.

The question at hand is why the reader should purchase this more expensive version of the first edition when later editions are readily available at a lower price . The difference is more one of ton e rather than substance. However, in the original edition one feels more in contact with Yogananda himself. In later editions we see Yogananda through the eyes of SRF; the organization becomes a medium between the reader and the yogi by the addition of more than a hundred references to the organization.

Yogananda created SRF, and the organization has done enormous benefit by continuing the teachings by making available his books, recordings, and lessons. Yet organizations have their limitations, and great teachers and great teachings transcend all organizations.

This is not to say that SRF was wrong for institutionalizing Yogananda and his teaching. Such organizations become necessary in the modern world. Personal transmissions, as in the old guru-disciple system of earlier days, have of necessity been replaced largely by tapes, videos, books, and correspondence courses. The advantage of an organization like SRF is that it can project t the teaching to help fill the spiritual needs of many more people. The disadvantage is that the teaching so transmitted tends to become depersonalized and frozen in time. The institution , instead of simply disseminating the teaching, begins to assert owners hip over it, and may itself replace the teacher. While there is danger in a guru becoming an institution, there is even greater danger in an institution becoming a guru.

In its more recent editions, SRF appears to make a special claim to be the sole representative of Yogananda's teaching. But Yogananda had many disciples, not all of whom were part of or remained with SRF. Moreover, Yogananda's gurus themselves had many other disciples who developed their work in various directions, and some of whom came to the West and taught Kriya Yoga along different lines. Yogananda, in other word s, was part of a greater lineage with many branches in India and the West. Kriya Yoga, the technique that Yogananda taught, has many different teachers and techniques, and it is impossible to divide it from the rest of the yoga tradition. He did not invent the teachings , though he certainly added his flavor to them and made them accessible to the Western mind.

The Hindu yoga tradition is notably anarchic in its structure. It has no central organization, no pope or archbishop, no Rome or Mecca, and certainly no Bible or Koran that all students must memorize or literally believe in. It is remarkably non-institutional , and places individual direct experience above outer forms , rules, ritual , or dogma. In personal relationship with the guru, each disciple is treated differently, and when the disciples go off to do their own practice or start their own center, they are not beholden to the successors of the guru once the guru passes away, nor to any organization created in the guru's name. Disciples may not even require the approval of the guru. For example, some great teachers like Ramana Maharshi had no formal disciples and anyone can claim to be their disciples. Yoga centers, unlike churches, do not require loyalty to an organization. Moreover, the teaching is more important than the personality of the guru . It is this sense of freedom and diversity in the yogic approach that comes out more clearly in the original edition of Autobiography of a Yogi. Examples of the differences between the original edition and the 1981 SRF edition:

Original edition: "The actual technique (of Kriya Yoga) must be learn ed from a Kriyaban or Kriya Yogi; here a broad reference must suffice."

1981 SRF edition: "The actual technique (of Kriya Yoga) must be learned from an authorized Kriyaban or Kriya Yogi of Self- Realization Fellowship (Yogoda Satsangha Society of India). Here a broad reference must suffice."

What originally was a broad reference by Yogananda to any Kriya Yogi was narrowed to refer to a member of one organization. This tends to cast doubt upon other Kriya Yogis who do not belong to SRF. Westerners, trained in religious orthodoxy, may take such reference more seriously than Hindus, who are accustomed to every sort of teacher, practice, and center. Such statements contain an implicit criticism of the very diversity that surrounded Yogananda and that is generally part of the yoga tradition.

Yogananda himself gave initiation rather freely, a point that later editions of the book wish to forget:

Original edition: "Tens of thousands of Americans received Yoga initiation ."

1981 SRF edition: "During the decade of 1920-1930 my yoga classes were attended by tens of thousands of Americans."

Yogananda may have started SRF, but it does not appear that he intended his teaching to be limited to one group. In this regard, references to spiritual communities - an important idea for Yogananda – have been taken out of the SRF edit ion. One example: "In these beautiful surroundings I have started a miniature world colony. Brotherhood is an ideal better understood by example than precept! A small harmonious group here may inspire other ideal communities over the earth."

Some other changes since the original edition appear to limit the connections between Yogananda's teaching and the rest of the tradition he came from. A reference to Ayurveda, for example, was taken out. Such changes, perhaps made with good intentions, nevertheless encourage conformity to a group rather than diversity.

Yogananda left not only SRF but a number of independent disciples, several of whom have become well known in their own right and who carry on the teaching along different lines. These teachers, who tend to be forgotten under the shadow of SRF, include Kriyananda, Roy Eugene Davis, Shelly Trimmer, Norm Paulsen, and Swami Premananda, to name a few.

Lahiri Mahasaya, Yogananda's guru's guru and the main proponent of Kriya Yoga in India, had many thousands of disciples in India. Babaji also is a well known Himalayan yogi in this broad tradition.

I think it is important to appreciate the diversity of the tradition, and for this reason recommend taking a look at the original edition. Yogananda wanted to bring the liberating practices of yoga to this country, not to create another church.

Winter 1994

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr; Ballantine, 1992; paper, 212 pages.

Here is a book for the mental musician. Anthony Storr has created a collage of history, analysis, observation, an d critique about the place of music in culture. Storr reflects on the innermost nature of the world in regard to sound through basic patterns, cultural comparisons, and even existential writings.

Quoting from a wide variety of musicians, scientists, and philosophers, Music and the Mind helps us to realize how vast and contrasting the intellectual approach to music is. By observing the origins and functions of music, Storr believes we can approach the significance of music in human life. From bird songs to Gregorian chant, there are functional attributes that signify the meaning of sound.

It is curious that spirituality and the simple release of beauty from an instrument are not considered within the book. There is a constant sense of referencing every idea to show the research and the historical awareness of other writers . Rather than weaving common threads that would inspire the reader to listen to music and experience it a non-critical way, Storr keeps the mind as the observer.

It is not until the end of the book that some of the quotations begin to touch on the rich inner quality of sound. Nietszche, for example, speaks of the life-affirming attributes of music:

What is it that my whole body really expects of music? I believe, its own ease: as if all animal functions should be quickened by easy, bold, exuberant, self-assured rhythms; as if iron, leaden life should be gilded by good golden and tender harmonies. My melancholy wants to rest in the hiding places and abysses of perfection: that is why I need music.

By the end of the book, there are fascinating observations such as Stravinsky's view of "psychological time" and "ontological time" as these relate to the listener.

Music and Mind may deepen your perception of how many musical minds work and think. With all its reflections and commentaries, music nevertheless is still a mystery, no matter how we approach it. What a glorious symphony of thought there is here for the mind and the ears.

Winter 1994

The Parabola Book of Healing introduction by Lawrence E. Sullivan; Continuum/Parabola, 1994; hardcover, 252 pages.

Rituals of Healing: Using Imagery for Health and Wellness by Jeanne Achterberg, Barbara Dossey, and Leslie Kolkmeir; Bantam Books, 1994; paper, 360 pages.

Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine by Larry Dossey, M.D.; HarperSanFrancisco, 1993; hardcover, 291 pages.

Each of these very special books focuses on various components of the healing process. The Parabola Book of Healing combines material presented in Parabola magazine's special issue on healing (Spring 1993) with additional material to make this a truly memorable experience. The book is organized in five sections titled "Metaphors of Health and Healing," "Disability and Disease," "Doctors and Doctoring," "Medicine East and West," and "Letting Go." It includes personal accounts of healings and discussions of healing approaches.

The varied accounts are both thought provoking and healing in and of themselves. Most not able is the soulful account by Jacques Lusseyran, the blind French poet, who writes of how recollections and recitations of poetry created moments of grace, serenity, and union in the inhuman conditions of Buchenwald. Poetry became an unexpected way of connecting and healing, and created a soulful bond among those in a disconnected world.

Thomas A. Dooling's thoughtful discussion of the healing aspects of the law is well presented. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk, writes on the transformation of suffering through mindfulness. Illness is presented as an opportunity to transform anger and suffering into a rose that can be offered in peace and service.

Rituals of Healing is a primer for the body/mind/spirit model of medicine, and should be required reading for any practitioner of the healing arts as well as those interested in self-healing techniques. It is concisely organized into eight parts, which skillfully guide the reader through the theory, concept, and practice of ritual and healing. The latter sections detail specific techniques for use with particular illnesses.

The section on "Successful Medical Tests and Surgery" is exceptional, and that on "Peaceful Dying" is realistic, compassionate, and eminently practical. The book not only skillfully educates, but in its gentle compassion shows there are many opportunities to heal the spirit in its journey toward wholeness.

Dr. Larry Dossey's book is destined to become a classic in the field. An internist and author of several books, Dossey has exhaustively researched the literature and presents a solid case for prayer in the practice of medicine. In reality, he has had to go the distance to prove what has long been known in clinical lore and to sensitive practitioners - that prayer is an important part of the healing process. He reports on numerous successes with healing both at close range and long distance, through the use of prayer and healing thoughts, whether known or unknown to the recipient.

He cites laboratory experiment s in which the growth of organisms was enhanced by the conscious thoughts of healers. When reading this eminently sensible practitioner, it is particularly difficult to realize that he is still a voice in the wilderness of the medical establishment , which by-and -large resists reuniting mysticism and medicine.

Unfortunately, the allopathic model discounts the spiritual element in healing and supports those scientists who refuse to acknowledge such research as Dos

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