Book Reviews 1996

Living Buddha Zen by Lex Hixon; Larson Publications, Burdette, N.Y., 1995; paperback.

Alexander Paul Hixon, the "Greatheart," was born on Christmas Day and left this earth on All Saints Day, November I, 1995. His memorial was celebrated in New York on December 8, which was the Blessed Mother's feast day. Every important date regarding this extraordinary man seems to have poetic justice stamped on it, lie was 54 years of age when he died.

Those who knew Hixon understand the significance of what God in the aspect of the mother meant to him. He spent his life seeking the Divine in a myriad of spiritual traditions, but always connecting them to the Universal Mother-whether it was Mother Mary, Goddess Kali, Mother Earth, or Tara. In his book The Mother of the Universe (Quest Books), he writes: "The Great Mother is humanity's most primordial, pervasive, and fruitful image of reality. She expresses herself fluently through and within every sacred tradition." He goes on to comment on the phenomenon of recent sightings of the Mother: "The many authentic appearances of the Virgin Mary- in Mexico, Portugal, Gerabondal, Spain, Lourdes, France, and contemporary apparitions today in Egypt, Mejugorje, and America-are special revelations of her reality for the modern world."

Hixon’s latest book, Living Buddha Zen, was published by Larson shortly before his death following a long and futile bout with cancer. He was to receive transmission in December from his Zen teacher Bernard Tetsugen Glassman Sensei. Other books by Hixon include Mother of the Universe, Mother of the Buddhas, and Heart of the Koran (all published by Quest), and Coming Home (recently reissued by Larson).

Hixon made explorations in "researching the Truth" accessible to all. He was a blend of scholarly intellectual and mystic, able to stay current in four sacred traditions: Ramakrishna Vedanta, Orthodox Christianity, Vajrayana Buddhism, and the Sufi Dervish Order, in which he became successor to Sheikh Muzafer after visiting Mecca in 1980. His title was Sheikh Nur, and he guided Sufis in New York City, New Jersey, Mexico, and Boulder. The profound devotion and love his Sufi students expressed for him is something to see. At the wake, a large band of Sufis brought forest green fabric to cover his casket, threw fragrant flower petals, sang, and praised Allah that he was in Paradise at last.

Years ago under the guidance of Father Alexander Schmemann, Lex and his wife Sheila studied mystical Christianity at Saint Vladimir's Seminary. I attended a service once with them and felt enchanted by the depth of spirit in that church. Every Sunday they went to Saint Vladimir's, despite the fact the church did not agree on his involvement with other religions.

Hixon was exposed to many paths in part from his hosting of a radio broadcast in which he interview ed many of the world 's spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Krishnamurti, Bawa Mahaddin, Pir Vilayat Khan, and others.

I have been blessed to have had the guidance, inspiration, and education Lex Hixon gave me so steadily since I was sixteen and searching. He introduced me to my favorite teacher, Swami Aseshananda, a Hindu monk who looked like Yoda wearing a bow tie. The swami always welcomed Lex to lecture when he was in the northwest.

Everyone in Lex's circle was somehow inducted as a "spiritual debutante," unveiled to "spirituality-society." so to speak. His own spiritual path began with Christianity, under the guidance of Father Deloria, a Lakota Sioux Episcopal priest. Later Hixon converted to Orthodox Christianity, then discovered Zen through Alan Watts. Then he encountered the Gospel of Ramakrishna which led to a meeting with his Indian guru Swami Nikhilananda, with whom he traveled and studied in the last seven years of his life. He also studied Tibetan Buddhism and knew the Dalai Lama. But no path engrossed him more, I think, than the Muslim tradition.

Robert Thurman, a professor of Buddhist studies and a friend, said Hixon "had a genius for revitalizing the classics and a reverence."

Toward the end of his life, Lex seemed exhausted by the huge responsibilities he had undertaken. Friends stayed at his house, some for months, some for years. One such friend, who had stayed at his house in 1987, told me she had a dream that Lex got colon cancer and that she told him about it. He ignored the message. What is strange is that this was a man who analyzed everyone's dreams and took them seriously. I feel he had made up his mind to depart this realm for reasons beyond our understanding. He ignored a chance to heal the illness in the early stages. Nevertheless, he has left behind a legacy of great deeds which would fill a book. He gave unbelievable amounts of money to good causes, spiritual organizations, and friends. He built a retreat in the Catskills, with a temple to honor all traditions and open to the public (for information, phone 518/966-5140).

Stephen Levine has said that "Lex has looked into the eyes of the Divine and has burst into flame." In a letter to Lex during his final illness, the Effendi in Istanbul wrote, “The only way to avoid death is not to be born in the first place. In death there is union with the Beloved. The real skill is to reach the secret of death before dying. May Allah make us all obtain that sec ret."

Spring 1996

New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science: edited by Willis Harman with Jane Clark; Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1994; hardcover.

In a recent article in Shambhala Sun, Willis Harman declared that the key question of our time is one of meaning: What is the central purpose of technologically advanced societies when it no longer makes sense for it to be economic production?

"The seeds of worldwide conflict lie in the enormous and growing disparity between the world's rich and poor peoples." Harman wrote, adding that, "the industrial era paradigm contains no rationale or incentive for more equitable distribution of the earth's resources."

For more than twenty years, Harman has been among the foremost spokesmen for a new metaphysic for modern science. In his new book, New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, Harman collects fourteen essays by various contributors offering perspectives for the nineties on issues previously raised by E. A. Burtt in his seminal book The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science seventy years earlier.

In suggesting a need for new ontological and epistemological assumptions underlying modern science, Harman and his colleagues do not suggest any kind of closure on what the new assumptions should be. But they do identify principal categories, including a shift away from a fragmented and mechanical conception of the world toward a holistic and organic conception; a shift away from a concern with objectivity toward a concern with subjectivity, including the role of perception and cognition in the process of scientific inquiry; a deep sense of wholeness, of oneness, of everything being part of a universe; and a sense of the validity of deep intuition as one of the ways in which we contact the greater reality.

Harman says that a "respiritualization of society appears to be taking place, but one more experiential and non-institutionalized, less fundamentalist and sacerdotal, than most of the historically familiar forms of religion."

Contributors to this book include scientists , philosophers, and psychologists, among them aerospace engineer Robert Jahn, biologist George Wald, physicist Arthur Zajonc, anthropologist Charles Laughlin, philosopher Lynn Hankinson Nelson, psychobiologist Roger Sperry, and professor of Indian studies and law Vine Deloria, Jr.

Spring 1996

Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers the Great Streams of History by Ralph Abraham; HarperSanFrancisco, 1994; paper.

In recent years, mathematicians, physicists, social scientists, and even movie makers have been interested in chaos theory. When reading about this concept, a layperson wonders about its applications to everyday life. How is it useful and why is everyone so excited about it?

Ralph Abraham, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, gives his response in this book. The word "chaos" generally evokes such synonyms as disorder, confusion, and disarray. Webster's Dictionary calls it the "state existing before the creation of distinct forms" or "complete disorder." Abraham, however, defines chaos as a cosmic principle and the source of all creation. When we resist change and cling to order, we are fighting this principle. It may be nature's way of transforming our lives through its ongoing evolution and growth.

Two other principles work hand in hand with chaos. These are "gaia,” the creative order of the living world that helps maintain its existence, and "eros," the creative impulse and spiritual medium that binds chaos and gaia together.

Abraham believes that science is in the throes of a major upheaval. Its traditional role has been to maintain the current paradigm through suppressing any experience that runs contrary to its dogma. It presumes we are each a separate consciousness looking out at a totally determinable mechanistic universe. Its dependence on accurate measurement of phenomena allows it to dismiss information that challenges this view in much the same way that medieval religion denied a sun-centered solar system as contrary to biblical canon.

Abraham argues that science cannot deny the existence of chaos in the rhythm of the planets, whose orbital variations defy prediction, the turbulence of climatic forces in the atmosphere and oceans, and even in the "metapatterns of history."

"Gaia," a term coined by Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, points out the holistic interconnection between the earth, its climate, and all living things. The Gaia Hypothesis, which began in the biological sciences, affirms the intelligence of the whole life system of our planet in creating and regulating the physical conditions optimal for the emergence and maintenance of life. The history of the temperature and climate of the earth, with its regulation by the biosphere and its irregularities (ice ages) caused by chaos in the solar system, is used to illustrate Gaian theory. (page 5)

Eros, according to the Greeks, denoted a spirit that yearned for "that which is missing or demanding love." Abraham compares it to the holy spirit, or logos, that connects soul and body. It is a psychic energy pushing aside order. It prevents stagnation. It promotes growth, transformation, and new life.

Abraham applies chaos theory to the study of history and the myths of each historical period. He states historical evolution takes place through transformations called bifurcations. These bifurcations affect stationary time periods where little change occurs, periodic time periods where a pattern, such as a series of wars, is repeated, and chaotic periods where radical bifurcation occurs. The latter, while appearing the most unsettling, actually leads to the greatest evolution in the era. Examples include the discovery of (the wheel, use of time pieces, the invention of movable type, and the shift from matriarchal to patriarchal culture.

Abraham ties chaos, gaia, and eros together culturally in what he calls the orphic tradition. It encourages balance among matriarchal and patriarchal civilization, regarding all life as sac red, and giving high priority to peace and security. It avoids violence, encourages sexual freedom, promotes myths and rituals focused on love while holding music and mathematics in high regard.

He states that we are in the midst of a scientific and cultural revolution that will, with our enlightened encouragement, allow this orphic tradition to once again blossom and grow. This involves acceptance of chaos (inevitable psychically-inspired transformation) rather than clinging to outdated ego, inspired order, and stagnation.

While applying chaos theory to history, science, myth, religion, and philosophy. Abraham actually says very little about the dynamics of chaos theory itself. While not overburdening the reader with complex mathematics, it would have been useful to walk one through some of the details of this compelling theory. He incorrectly assumes that the reader will have some knowledge of chaos dynamics while reading a book obviously meant for the layperson. This survey of many diverse fields is, at times, only loosely tied together. It does, however, contain a glossary of technical terms as well as a thorough index. The extensive bibliography points the reader to greater exploration of the various fields and to further examination of his overall theme.

Spring 1996

The Balance of Nature's Polarities In New-Paradigm Theory by Dirk Dunbar; Peter Lang Publishing Inc., New York, 1994; paper, 165 pages.

Since about 1945, the sense that Western civilization took a wrong turn somewhere has been generally expanding. The world wars were signals that something had gone drastically wrong, and the general belief that enough nuclear weapons existed to wipe out humanity, if not life on earth, was to many a desperate call for a new way of viewing and interacting with the world. Many new ways have been proposed in the past fifty years, from free market capitalism to moral interpretations of quantum physics, to feminism, to hippie enlightenment, to goddess worship.

Dirk Dunbar's book is an attempt to summarize the main threads of spiritual aspect s of these new ways. This "cultural transformation" involves science in the form of Jungian psychology and the new physics, and a broadened awareness of nature, especially in certain strands of feminism and popular music. Dunbar calls the general concatenation of ideas the "new-paradigm theory," and the overall thesis is simply stated in a sentence on his first page: "Western culture is reintegrating a feminine, ecological impulse into its dominantly masculine, rational value system."

The first sections of the book provide crisp explanations of how some of the new paradigm theory's most prominent developers- including Nietzsche, Emerson. Jung, Erich Neumann, Theodore Roszak , Fritjof Capra, Alan Watts, and Riane Eisler, as well as the Eranos meetings and Esalen Institute-have called attention to the problems of Western culture and helped shape the transformation. Collectively, says Dunbar, these scholars alert us to the fact that Western culture has been in a state of psychological and spiritual imbalance for about 2400 years, and at this point in history a general effort is being made to restore balance.

The central figure in this is Nietzsche's Apollonian opposition. Our culture has bee n so long dominated by Apollonian qualities (rationality, logic, and what we generally take to be masculine or yang traits) that Dionysian qualities (intuition, emotion, and general feminine or yin traits) have been subordinated and weakened, leading to an overemphasis on science and a lack of emphasis on our relation to nature, for example, not to mention ourselves. In his conclusion Dunbar says:

Recognizing the Mother Goddess, Dionysus, Shiva, and yin as representations of nature's dark, mysterious, female, receptive, synthesizing, and intuitive principles, and the Father-sky, Apollo, Vishnu, and yang as light, rational, male, aggressive, and discriminating principles, the scholars [of new-paradigm theory] contend that only through balancing the two can individuals and society at large actualize full human worth.

This sentence captures the gist of the book. The most important element of new paradigm theory is that the debilitating split between human beings and nature is being recognized and dealt with in postwar culture through the feminist and environmental movements and through an emphasis on personal psychology in the Jungian tradition. As important to Dunbar's argument as Nietzsche's figures is Erich Neumann's theory or prophecy that the collective Western psyche shifted from feminine to masculine emphasis about 2400 years ago and has only recently entered a stage of reintegration of the two.

Dunbar gives particular attention in the latter half of his book to the American countercultural movement of the sixties. He says that the counterculture was a manifestation of Dionysian aesthetics and more finely, that it was an effort to replace Apollonian, agape driven values with Dionysian, eros-driven values. Jack Kerouac (On the Road, The Dharma Bums) and Robert Pirsig (Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) represent different phases of the countercultural effort to make this replacement.

Further, Dunbar argues in some detail that the rock music of the sixties also embodied the change. A kind of unconscious rebellion was enacted in the music of the fifties, in which performers like Elvis Presley evoked distinctly Dionysian sensibilities. Dunbar points out that Presley in some sense came to be seen as a "god," reinforcing Dionysian sensibilities. The Dionysian evolved, in this view, into full-fledged, conscious rebellion by the late sixties, when the music of the Beatles, the "Rolling Stones, the Doors, and others deliberately invoked Dionysian, eros-driven feelings. He likens this to the popular transformation, in ancient Greece, of Dionysian rites into sophisticated drama. The whole thing signifies to Dunbar not merely a youth rebellion, but a shift of cultural paradigms.

This book is a concise summary of the philosophical and historical ideas about cultural change which have evolved in this century in the West. However, although Dunbar emphasizes the reintegration of feminine elements of the psyche into Western values, he mentions relatively few women. Still it is an excellent introduction to some major interpreters of modern culture.

Dunbar is a clear thinker and philosopher, a fine teacher and musician, and also an accomplished athlete, one of the outstanding players in the history of European professional basketball. His book is a helpful addition to the literature of this turbulent century and well worth the time and energy of anyone interested in the spiritual implication s and potentials of those changes.


Spring 1996

Structures of Consciousness by Georg Feuerstein; Integral Publishing, Lower Lake, Cal., 1995; paperback.

This scholarly work was out of print for several years, and it is good to have it available again, complete with a vivid new cover. Feuerstein's book is the first and only comprehensive introduction to the work of the Swiss cultural philosopher Jean Gebser (1905-1973), who long before the new age movement, arrived at the conclusion that we are witnessing the birthing of a new type of consciousness. In his magnum opus The Ever Present Origin, he named it the aperspectivalarational-integral consciousness.

Feuerstein has been pursuing Gebserian research for the past quarter century. What makes Structures of Consciousness so valuable is that it not merely makes Gebser's generally difficult work accessible, but also critiques and expands it. Consciousness has recently entered scientific discourse so the ideas in the book, skillfully sketched by Feuerstein, will be of interest to many readers of The Quest. I recommend this book highly.

Spring 1996

The Tale of the Incomparable Prince by mDoc mkhar Tshe ring dbang rgyal, trans. by Beth Newman; HarperCollins, 1996; hardcover, 319 pages.

Beth Newman has undertaken the first English translation of the only known Tibetan novel, The Tale of the Incomparable Prince. Writing in the 1720s, the author attempted to combine social and political views with Buddhist teachings in an artistic fashion. He sought to provide a tale for his people without limiting it to the world of scholars who traditionally exchanged such stories among themselves.

The hero of the novel, Prince Kumaradvitiya, is an Eastern equivalent to King Arthur, a symbol of excellence in the arts of war, love, and leadership, who maintains the highest understanding and devotion to morality and universal love. The tale told here combines Eastern teachings such as the Bhagavad-Gita with a more typically Western-style tale such as those of Homer. It is an exciting story about princes and kings, heroes and villains, and, of course, love. It is also a deeply spiritual and philosophical piece that engages a reader's sense of morality.

Unlike its sermon-like predecessors in the Buddhist literary canon, the religious lessons in The Tale of the Incomparable Prince are relayed in a storytelling manner that makes the values and ideals of the tradition accessible to the modern reader.

The story tells of the birth and rebirth of Prince Kumaradvitiya. Prince Kumara is born as the first son and heir of King Suryamati (Wise Sun), the great king of the city Gem of the World. Kumara is born according to prophecy as a brilliant and powerful prince, who inherits wealth, knowledge, political and martial power, and the love of his people. His unimaginable abundance of earthly powers and privileges is displayed in his quest to obtain the magnificent Monahan as his queen. He is called upon to exercise political leadership and military prowess in leading his armies into battle against enemies.

Despite his wealth and success, his instinct is to lead his people according to dharma. Like the Buddha, Kumara understands that earthly riches and pleasures only trap people in samsara, misery. He must, however, first complete this journey towards enlightenment himself before he can return and lead his people and offer them salvation from samsara.

As a religious text, this novel is faithful to the Buddhist tradition, teaching that as karma repays us for drifting from dharma, we have the tendency to make more and more mistakes. This leads us into the never ending cycle of misery called samsara. Tshe ring dbang rgyal writes:

In that fiery place, the Death Lord draws lines
Upon our bodies according to our evil deeds.
Then sharp weapons saw us into that pattern.

The only escape from samsara is the quest to understand and come to terms with the transitory nature of life, which is a ceaseless system of births and rebirths. Our experiences are simply visions of this pool of life as it churns. Everything is impermanent except that everything is impermanent.

The novel mirrors the experiences of the Buddha, who also was born a rich prince, Siddhartha, who abandoned earthly riches for his quest of enlightenment.

Juan Mascaro, who translated the Bhagavad Gita and the Dhammapada, wrote that "There are, however, two great branches of literature not found in Sanskrit. There is no history and there is no tragedy; there is no Herodotus or Thucydides; and there is no Aeschylus or Sophocles or Euripides" (in Juan Mascaro, trans., The Bhagavad Gita, Penguin, New York, 1962, 9-10). Tshe ring dbang rgyal's work proves Mascaro to be quite mistaken, for this is a magnificent piece of literature, filled with poetry, tragedy, and some history. We now have in English a single piece of literature that provides a compelling tale that includes a fictionalized history of ideas and events vital to Tibet and the Buddhist world.


Summer 1996

A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber; Shambhala, Boston, 1996; paper.

Compared to Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, its 800-page, highly acclaimed predecessor, A Brief History of Everything is a stroll in the proverbial park. But not simply because of its shorter page count. The book has been written in an interview format, which makes it more personable, more reader-friendly, and far less intimidating than the earlier book. And Wilber's sprinkling of humor throughout is an unexpected delight. Ken Wilber has come out to play.

Yet make no mistake, this book, which centers on evolution, human development, consciousness, and spiritual realization, is no lightweight. As a distillation and synthesis of his previous works-more than a dozen since his classic, The Spectrum of Consciousness-there's plenty of substance here.

Nonetheless, the effect of this style of presentation makes Wilber's insights seem less "scholarly" and more immediately relevant to day-to-day life. Here's an example: Wilber suggests that, ultimately, Spirit reveals itself in three distinct ways in the physical world-through the sense of "I," the subjective or inner aspect of spirit or consciousness; through the "we" space, the community of spirit that pivots on ethics, morals, and culturally accepted worldviews; and through the "it" domain of objects and things, the measurable outer garment of God studied by science.

This obvious, yet not clearly recognized, distinction was useful. As a management consultant, I have known intuitively that most managerial methodologies are predominantly "it"-focused, using the scientific method to streamline systems. That's all very well and good. At some level I have known that to neglect consciousness and the inner development and growth of individuals within an organization is to become imbalanced and fall short of an organization's ultimate potential. To do so is to cut off the left hand of spirit in expression.

But unlike before, I now possess a potent and clear conceptual model, a more expansive framework that I can share with corporate executives. From my perspective, these individuals need to embrace both domains if they want their organizations to thrive.

In A Brief History of Everything, Wilber describes two streams of spiritual movement -the "ascending path" of evolution, which embodies the realization that in back of all forms, behind the Many, there is the One, and the "descending path," in which the One finds perfect expression as the Many. According to Wilber, it is the inability of "ascenders" and "descenders" to fully integrate these two movements of spirit that has led to fierce battles and bitter gridlock throughout history ascenders and descenders, "still crazy after all these years." This distinction proved immediately helpful to me in my desire to better understand some of the polarizing forces that arc playing themselves out on the world scene, right here, right now.

Warning: This book is not intended for the spiritually immature or dogmatically inclined. Whether you are a new ager, a systems thinker, an unflagging environmentalist, or a hardline fundamentalist-if you have fallen into a sense of complacency and righteousness regarding your own partial take on the good, the beautiful, and the true-Wilber is sure to rattle your cage.

But herein lies Wilber's greatest gift. He sniffs out and exposes limited, dysfunctional, and half-baked thinking like a champion bloodhound in hot pursuit of its quarry. Through an amazing capacity to synthesize and clarify Eastern and Western psychologies and spiritual traditions, he is able to paint a unique and broad panorama where all the puzzle pieces can fall into place.

One can only hope that this book will be a crossover title for Wilber, allowing the brilliance of his insights to shine among a much broader audience.


Summer 1996

A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe:The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science by Michael S. Schneider; HarperCollins. New York, 1994; xxxii +352pages; hardcover.

Number symbolism and mysticism are pervasive in the world's cultural traditions. In the West, the Pythagoreans and the Kabbalists have provided two major approaches to the meaning of numbers; while the East has its own numerological traditions. The symbolism of numbers is also a major concern of Freemasonry and of modern Theosophy. From H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, with its preoccupation with number symbols in the Stanzas of Dzyan and explications of them, to the writings of later Theosophists like Claude Bragdon, who integrated art, architecture, and mathematics, Theosophical literature has treated numbers as emblems of the timeless wisdom.

A Beginner's Guide is an eclectic survey of the symbolism of numbers one through ten as (according to the blurb on the dust jacket) "a wisdom neither ancient nor New Age but timeless." Its author, Michael Schneider, is a mathematics teacher who "designed the geometry harmonizing the statues at the entrance to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City." He writes in the grand tradition of mathematicians who have perceived their calling as all art of order and a yoga of understanding.

In his introduction to the book, the author distinguishes between secular mathematics (which is what is taught in schools and used in ordinary applications), symbolic or philosophical mathematics (which is the main subject of this book-a view of numbers as an expression of the order of creation), and sacred mathematics (the use of numbers to raise consciousness from mayavic to the Real, from the phenomenal to the noumenal, from the typical to the archetypal). It is the possibility of the last that is the real fascination of the study of numbers.

The body of this well-illustrated and clearly written book is divided into ten chapters, one for each of the first ten numbers, 1 to 10. One misses a chapter on zero, mystically or sacredly speaking the most important of the numbers and one of considerable value even in secular mathematics (try multiplying or dividing LClX by XXXlI to see how important 0 is). However, the chapter on I includes the circle, which overlaps the symbolism of zero.

The book includes a wealth of topics related more or less closely to numbers: mandalas, the ouraboros, the geometer's tools, Mobius strips, checkerboards, the vesica piscis, the principle of the arch, primary colors of pigments and light, labyrinths, the Orphic Egg, the Platonic solids, the Golden Mean (also rectangle, triangle, and spiral), the Fibonacci Series, Escher illusions, the Zodiac, Stonehenge, the musical scale, the electromagnetic spectrum, chakras, the Rainbow Bridge to Valhalla, ziggurats, the caduceus, mitosis, the I Ching, the DNA molecule, lunar phases, the enneagram, the Otz Chiim, the tetraktys, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Here indeed is God the Geometer's plenty.

It is said that the gods created the universe by numbers. And if each of us is a creator in training, then the title of this attractive, entertaining, and informative volume suggests it is a handbook for future Dhyan Chohans, or universe-creators. Studying the book mayor may not prepare readers to construct a universe. It will, however, tell them much about the inner side of numbers and open their eyes to the rich symbolism of mathematics and geometry.


Summer 1996

God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita. Royal Science of God-Realization by Parahmahansa Yogananda; Self Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, 1996; Two·volume slipcased hardcover, 1,224 pages.

This monumental translation and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, by one of India's illustrious saints, breaks new ground as a revelation of its deepest spiritual, psychological, and metaphysical truths.

One of the most beloved of India's sacred texts, the Gita is considered to embody the essence of the four Vedas, 108 Upanishads, and six systems of Hindu philosophy. A pivotal episode of the great Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata, the Gita takes place on the eve of a cataclysmic war in ancient India. Allegorically depicting the moral and spiritual struggle that leads to God-realization, it presents a dialogue in which the Lord Krishna, symbolizing the omnipresent Spirit, imparts counsel to the warrior-prince Arjuna, the soul.

In an illuminating commentary, Yogananda explores the science of yoga encrypted in the Gita, its time-honored tradition of meditation, and the way this ancient discipline makes possible the direct experience of God. In simple but eloquent language, he sets forth a sweeping chronicle tracing the soul's journey to enlightenment. He considers issues of great interest today, including the origin, evolution, and nature of the cosmos; karma and reincarnation; the phenomenon of death and life after death; and the eternal laws of righteousness. Extensive footnotes show striking correlations between the Vedic view of reality and the discoveries of modern science, as well as parallels between the teachings of the Gita and those of the Bible.

Born in northern India, Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) lived and taught in the United States for more than thirty years, after coming here in 1920 as India's delegate to an international congress of religious leaders. His landmark Autobiography of a Yogi, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, is widely regarded as a spiritual classic.

A preliminary serialization of his translation and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita first began appearing in 1932 in Self-Realization Fellowship's magazine. Toward the end of his life, Yogananda devoted considerable time to revising and expanding this work, and gave instructions to two close disciples regarding editing and annotation for eventual publication in book form. His complete translation and commentaries are now available for the first time in this elegantly designed and illustrated edition, which includes a 37-page index and twelve original color paintings by contemporary Indian artists.


Summer 1996

The Ultimate Maze Book by David Anson Russo; Simon &Schuster, New York, 1991; paper.

Labyrinths are big things these days. A number of recent books have treated walking labyrinthine patterns as a spiritual exercise or have considered the patterns as symbols of our experience of and in the world.

Labyrinths, also called mazes, are of two basic sorts: unicursal, in which a single, undeviating path without options leads through the intricate windings of the pattern; and multicursal, in which a number of paths branch off from each other, offering sets of alternatives, not all of which may lead to the desired end. The term "labyrinth" is sometimes restricted to the unicursal variety, although that may also and less ambiguously be termed a "meander." Multicursal labyrinths are also called "mazes."

The Ultimate Maze Book is about multicursal labyrinths, which are often used as puzzles-frustrating or entertaining, depending on their complexity and the solver's ingenuity, Mazes are of several types, depending on how they are made: turf mazes, hedge mazes, toy mazes (games in which one rolls a little ball through the passages in a glass-topped box), and paper mazes, This book consists of 39 full-page colored maze diagrams on paper that the reader can try to solve. Even the simplest are fiendishly difficult for the tyro. Working mazes is like solving crossword puzzles: it takes talent, experience, and an obsession to finish the task.

The mazes in this book can also be regarded as works of art, for most could be hung on the wall as decorations. Or alternatively they could be used as objects of contemplation, like yantras. Spiritual exercises need not be very far from art and entertainment, for the world, as the Hindu sages tell us, is a game, a divine lila.

There are significant differences between the unicursal meander and the multicursal maze. One may be a gender link, with women preferring the meander, and men the maze. Or they may correspond with different psychological types: the meander with security-seeking introverts and the maze with chance-taking extraverts. Or perhaps they symbolize two spiritual experiences: the meander the certainty of our higher selves, and the maze the confusion of the personalities.

The two forms of the labyrinth certainly differ in their philosophical implications. For the meander proclaims that we will all reach the goal, not all at the same time, but all with the same assuredness. The maze offers no such guaranty. You enter it at your own risk and take your chances.

This book offers many hours of play and contemplation with chance-taking confusion, but no danger if you hit a dead end.

Summer 1996

A Mythic Life, by Jean Houston; HarperCollins, New York, 1996; hardcover, 340 pages.

Peripheral Visions, by Mary Catherine Bateson; HarperCollins, New York, 1994; hardcover, 243pages.

The Way of the Explorer: Art Apollo Astronaut's Journey through the Material and Mystical Worlds, by Dr. Edgar Mitchell, with Dwight Williams; G. P. Putnam: Sons, New York, 1996; hardcover, 230 pages.

All three of these books present what could surely be called mythic lives. All three authors have ranged in their lives across expanses of experience decidedly uncommon in one life.

Jean Houston's career has ranged over psychology, philosophy, anthropology, the new physics, and embodied all of these interests in explorations of human potential. But she is perhaps best known as an extraordinary storyteller in workshops and mystery schools aimed at transforming participants' lives.

Mary Catherine Bateson is a professor of anthropology and English and a prolific author, another profound storyteller who writes movingly of the effort to "construe continuity" in a life that may appear extraordinarily diffuse and scattered in its explorations.

Former astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell's life, beginning on a Texas ranch during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, included training at MIT, walking on the moon, and then exploring the outer dimensions of human consciousness.

Mythic lives, all.

Mitch ell begins his tale this way: "In January of 1971 I boarded a spacecraft and traveled to an airless world of brilliant clarity. The soil there is barren and gray, and the horizon always further than it appears. It is a static world that has only known silence. Upon its landscape human perspective is altered."

By the end of the first page he makes the key point of his book: "What I experienced during that three-day trip home [from the moon] was nothing short of an overwhelming sense of universal connectedness."

A visionary moonwalker, he went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which under the direct ion of Willis Harman has become the leading institution in the exploration of consciousness. Mitchell's book is an adventure across space and deep into inner space culminating in his declaration that the gods of the mystic and the theologian have been too small. "They fill the universe. And to the scientist, all I can say is that the gods do exist. They are the eternal, connected, and aware Self experienced by all intelligent beings."

Mary Catherine Bateson's stories draw on experiences living in many cultures Israel, the Philippines, Iran, America. She promotes the idea of lifelong learning and, in a delightful chapter called "Construing Continuity," speaks of how in looking back over a life of seeming discontinuity one can discern or at least "construe continuity."

She writes that:

Often those who have made multiple fresh starts or who have chosen lives with multiple discontinuities are forced by the standard ideas of the shape of a successful career to regard their own lives as unsuccessful. I have had to retool so often I estimate I have had five careers. This does not produce the kind of resume that we regard as reflecting a successful life, but it is true of more and more people, starting from the beginning again and again. Zigzag people. Learning to transfer experience from one cycle to the next, we only progress like a sailboat tacking into the wind. (p.82)

We can, she says, write the story of our lives as continuity or discontinuity. One version of the truth, she says, is that "Everything I have ever done has been heading me for where I am today," and the other version is "It is only after many surprises and choices, interruptions and disappointments, that I have arrived somewhere I could never have anticipated."

Those who have participated at one time or another in one of Jean Houston's workshops will already have heard some of the stories in her book. But all of them bear "rehearing" in this summation of her life to date. Perhaps we should say" lives to date," for Houston's life is characteristic of Bateson's description of the wide-ranging life. From the Hollywood of the forties, where Houston's father Jack was a writer for many of the great comedians, to travels to many countries, to the Parliament of Religions, to the United Nat ions, Jean Houston's life is rich with stories

. All three of these authors, by taking readers on their own mythic journeys, show how to draw out the mythic strands in our own lives.


Autumn 1996

A Parliament of Souls: In Search of Global Spirituality edited by Michael Tobias, Jane Morrison, and Bettina Gray; KQED Books, 1995; paperback, 291 pages.

A Parliament of Souls proceeds on the presumption that with over 5,000 languages and dialects spoken in the world and nearly two hundred countries culturally intermingling in an unparalleled manner, the late twentieth century provides unprecedented opportunity for a human community that is strengthened with dialogue and tolerance. As a speculative hypothesis, this claim was tested in the historic forum provided three summers ago by the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago.

If the 1893 assembly held one hundred years earlier is recalled for initiating inter-religious dialogue and encouraging comparative studies of religion, the 1993 gathering is remembered for creating an international network connecting religious communities worldwide. Unlike the first parliament, the 1993 event was an assembly to which all the religions were invited and almost all participated.

Insightful and sometimes inspiring interviews with twenty-eight spiritual leaders are contained in this book, which was prepared as a companion volume to accompany the acclaimed public television series filmed during the 1993 Parliament. The book provides a spacious spectrum surveying contemporary religion, a virtual spiritual banquet with dishes served by Baha'i, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Jain , Jewish , Muslim, Native American, Sikh, Sufi, Taoist, and Zoroastrian adherents.

This commemorative book contains thoughtful presentations from H. H. the Dalai Lama, Harvard Prof. Diana L. Eck, University of Chicago Prof. Martin E. Marty, Notre Dame's Theodore Hesburgh, theologian Hans Kung, former UN Assistant Secretary General Robert Muller, Brother Wayne Teasdale, and Swami Chidananda.

Those represented in the book possess powerful hearts and analytical minds, which they apply to confront the countless crises and problems challenging contemporary societies. Among the perplexing problems raised are the possibility for a universal ethics code, the response required when hatred emanates from religious sources, ways to combat racial prejudice and ethnic bigotry, and the role of personal spirituality in daily life.

Shorn from the academia that dominates comparative religious study, the contributors illumine thoughts and feelings that might seem abstruse or esoteric. Unfortunately, most mass media coverage of the Parliament almost completely missed the wellsprings that flowed profusely during the event. Without contrivance, this aesthetically appealing anthology is pervaded with an intimate and experiential approach, expressing what Tobias describes as "a profound unity in pluralism." It illustrates that while religion sometimes earns an unfavorable reputation, still religious sources provide significant claim that must be addressed by every individual. It confirms the conclusion that the 1993 Parliament evoked, in Tobias' words, "an exhilarating experience to encounter deep feelings conveyed so intimately and shared among friends."


Autumn 1996

The Shambhala Guide to Yoga, by Georg Feuerstein. Boston: Shambhala, 1996. Pp. xi + 190.

This survey of yogic philosophy and practice is made with Georg Feuerstein’s customary lucidity, comprehensiveness, detail, and common sense. It is a book about what yoga is, not how CO do yoga, thus putting first things properly first. Too many people in the West set out to do yoga without knowing just what it is they are doing. Feuerstein corrects that misordering of priorities by giving an overview of the major aspects of the theory that every practitioner should command before beginning serious work.

This Guide makes it clear that yoga is not just an exotic form of calisthenics, but is rather a spiritual discipline based on certain assumptions about the nature of reality. It also makes clear that the full range of yogic practice includes some activities that are potentially dangerous ones for those who are unprepared for them and are unguided by knowledgeable experts in the field. Its thirteen chapters also give a commendably wide coverage of both Hindu and Buddhist yoga.

The book's first four chapters cover the following subjects: the history and purpose of yoga; the main kinds of yoga (jnana, karma, bhakti, mantra, raja, and hatha); the process of transmitting yoga (the teacher, the disciple, and initiation); and the nature of the bliss to which yoga leads and the moral basis for pursuing it (yama and niyama).

The next four chapters deal with specific techniques typical of yogic practice. These include methods of bodily purification (some of which seem bizarre to contemporary Westerners) and the postures that many Westerners exclusively associate with yoga; the rationale of diet; the theory of breath control; and the mental practices of withdrawing one's attention from the outer world (pratyahara), concentrating it (dharana ), making it continuous in meditation (dhyana), and finally getting it all together (samadhi). The use of imagination, practical techniques, and distractions along the way are also covered.

Chapters nine through eleven treat some more specific matters, including mantras, kundalini (with suitable warnings about the dangers of ignorant and premature experiments), and tantra. Treatment of the last subject includes left -hand and sexual tantras, but it also makes clear that they are not the whole of the "subject, which encompasses "a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices," embracing twelve characteristic features. The last two chapters are conclusions. Chapter twelve examines the nature of the samadhi experience, often translated as "ecstasy," that is, a standing outside one's egoic self, but which might more appropriately be translated as "enstasy," a standing within the conscious ness of the unitive Self. The final chapter, "Yoga in the Modern World," looks at the role yoga can usefully play to fill the gap between con temporary religious fundamentalism and secular fundamentalism (based on scientific materialism) and stresses the need for a qualified teacher to direct the performer in that role.

The final chapter both resonates and contrasts with modern Theosophy. H. P. Blavatsky viewed Theosophy as also filling the gap between the two fundamentalisms of religion and science. Furthermore she viewed Theosophy as a kind of yoga (specifically jnana yoga) leading to the ecstatic experience called samadhi in yogic literature. However, she also recognized that for most Westerners guidance by a guru in the Eastern pattern is not feasible, and so she advanced Theosophy as a form of yoga that can be followed without personal instruction- a form of yoga for the West or, more accurately, a yoga not limited to the cultural patterns of the East, though benefiting from its wisdom.

The Shambhala Guide to Yoga is a vademecum for students and intending practicers of Eastern yoga. It fills the need for a survey of the whole subject in a degree of detail that satisfies without satiating the enquirer. Anyone who wants to know both about yoga and how to do it can usefully begin with Annie Besant's Introduction to Yoga as a primer, follow it with this work surveying the whole field as a thorough introductory overview, and then go on to Wallace Slater's useful guides Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga for safe, practical suggestions on doing yoga.


Winter 1996

Science, Paradox, and the Moebius Principle: The Evolution of a 'Transcultural' Approach to Wholeness, by Steven M. Rosen; State University of New York Press, Albany. N.Y, 1994; softcover, 317pages.

According to Stanislav Grof, the literature on creativity clearly demonstrates that significant breakthroughs in the fields of science, art, religion, and philosophy are characteristically the result of an inspiration mediated by nonordinary states of consciousness. Grof has distinguished at least two primary forms of inspiration.

Sometimes an individual is suddenly presented- in a dream, vision, fever, meditation, or other nonordinary state of consciousness- with the solution to a problem on which he or she has been unsuccessfully working, typically for a long time. An example would be the chemist August von Kekule, who arrived at the final solution to the formula of benzene with his dream of the ouroboros and its ingenious suggest ion of the structure of the ring.

In other cases, however, the relationship between intuitive and discursive thinking is reversed - and the individual is presented, out of the blue, with an unprecedented insight into the nature of reality far in advance of its time. It can take years- even decades or centuries - to unfold the implications of such a visionary seed idea. An example is the idea that organic life originated in the ocean, which was initially formulated by the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaxagoras, but which had to await modem evolutionary biology for confirmation. Likewise the now familiar idea that reality is characterized by a mutual interpenetration of all things, which is found in ancient Chinese texts, has been developed more recently by the physicist David Bohm and others as an emerging paradigm in science.

Psychologist and philosopher Steven M. Rosen is a key contributor to the "new paradigm," having worked with Bohm himself. Rosen was initially trained in experimental psychology, but has been diligently laboring for twenty-three years in the fields of theoretical physics, mathematics, parapsychology, topology, cosmology, and phenomenology.

While working on his dissertation, he experienced a hypnogogic vision with a powerful and frightening ecstatic component. He subsequently conjectured this was a kundalini awakening. Four years later, in 1972, his Ph.D. in hand, the process suddenly recommenced. Over a two-week period, Rosen experienced what he has described as a series of visionary insights into the nature of consciousness and the cosmos. These insights utterly transformed his sense of self and reality.

Rosen's new book provides a record of the evolution of his ideas, which he describes as a twenty-plus-year process of "unpacking" that two-week transformative experience. In it he traces "the development of the Moebius principle, a new way of approaching the foundations of science and philosophy. The strategy has been to confront crisis and fragmentation in contemporary thought by offering a concrete intuition of thoroughgoing wholeness" (p.269).

Not all holisms are coherent, dynamic, and creative. Some, like Nazism and other totalitarian ideologies, aim for a closed and rigid totality while sacrificing values such as coherence, comprehensiveness, richness, complexity, and openness to change. Rosen is unwilling to make such sacrifices. Rosen is no conservative traditionalist; he sees such views as preserving dualism by exalting a static, orderly realm of supra historical Being over and above a merely chaotic process of historical Becoming.

It may seem perverse to mention totalitarianism, traditionalism, and the new paradigm in the same breath. But in his important 1989 book, Imaginary Landscape; Making Worlds of Myth and Science, philosopher William Irwin Thompson openly broke with the New Age precisely because of what he had come to regard as its unabashedly reactionary character. Thompson argued for a new, non-authoritarian, non-regressive conception of wholeness, for which we need a living, moving geometry, a new topology of the sacred, a "processual morphology."

If Thompson had been acquainted with Rosen's work, he doubtless would have recognized a kindred spirit. "In the Moebius principle," Rosen writes, "wholeness is sought in the embodiment of paradox…The wholeness in quest ion is utterly fluid and dynamic, an unobstructed boundless flow" (p. 269).

By "paradox," Rosen does not mean sheer contradiction-what he calls the negative sense of the word- for that would license every form of irrationality. The positive sense of paradox is to be "understood in the Zen-related sense of a wholeness so uncompromising that it confounds the dichotomies built into ordinary thinking" (p. 120). This refusal to compromise requires a greater, not lesser, degree of logical clarity. For example, the conflation of intellect and emotion represented in the Nazi motto "Think with the blood!" signals a reversion to pre-ration al modes of thought. As Sam Keen has pointed out, the first step of all totalitarian movement s is to encourage us to project our shadow onto the face of "the enemy."

Rosen invites us to bear in mind Ken Wilber's contribution in drawing attention to "the 'pre/ trans fallacy,' a widespread tendency among theorists to confuse pre-personal [i.e., undifferentiated] and transpersonal [i.e., integrated] dimensions'" of consciousness [p. 213). We must also distinguish what is pre-rat ional (merely irrational) from what is trans-rational. Paradox in this positive sense has a definite trajectory: a movement towards a fully coherent wholeness.

By refusing to yield either side of the paradox that we are at once fully alone and yet fully at one with the universe, we are forced to live what cannot easily be explained, that is, what we are. We must resolve to become a veritable mystery to ourselves.

For Rosen there is no easy guide-no guru-friendly formula-for such enlightenment. The question of personal identity is central. But this is not a symptom of a solipsistic or narcissistic self-preoccupation, for the question of identity cannot be addressed in isolation from questions of our collective human identity. And who, and what, is the "other"? Existential self-inquiry, social self-inquiry, and metaphysical inquiry are mutually irreducible, inseparably related aspects of the whole project.

Rosen is still- and necessarily ever shall be-in the process of working out the radical epistemological, existential, and metaphysical implications of this idea. In his perspicacious critiques of Bohm and Jung and their respective approaches to the problem of wholeness, he offers important hints on the direction in which his investigation must go.

In chapter 14, Rosen notes Bohm's distinction between the implicate order and the holomovement. Whereas the implicate (infinite) order is a stratum of energy, information, or meaning subtly enfolded within our explicate (finite} reality, yet knowable in principle, the holomovement is the "unknown" (and unthinkable) totality as it exists in itself, the unmanifest force behind even the implicate order. Rosen follows David Griffin in regarding the idea of the holomovement as symptomatic of Bohm's occasional "Vedantist mood "; he further asks whether this idea only serves to preserve the very fragmentation of consciousness and reality which Bohm originally set out to question.

At times in my personal exchanges with Bohm, I too have gotten the impression of an ultimate denial of form in favor of that which is formless. For example, he has distinguished symbolic knowing from what he believes to be beyond an, form of thought. Bohm has acknowledged that certain forms of symbolizing may usefully call attention to their own limitations and therefore serve as stepping stones, paving the way for transcendence. But in the end, through the acts of inward awareness and deeply reflective attention, which are distinct from mere forms of thought, form is entirely left behind; it dissolves in an" intelligent perception of the infinite totality." As I see it, the non-duality [of subject and object] thus achieved preserves the higher-order dualism of the finite and infinite, the differentiated and undifferentiable, for by granting formless totality such priority over form, form does not merely vanish hut remains to express itself negatively in the now unsolvable enigma of why there is format all. (p. 262)

Rosen's point , I take it , is this: If thought has no essential and internal relationship to intuition or meditation , and language is at best a dispensable means to an end which is entirely apart from language (to know that which is totally unsayable), then we are left with the same scenario rejected by William Irwin Thompson: the purely relative body/mind dropping off in favor of a purely absolute spirit; time, history, individuality, matter, etc. bespeaking a fall into the world; forms (include the forms of thought and imagination ) as symptoms of error or evil. The unbridgeable gulf between the symbol and the symbolized as expressed in the idea that language is thoroughly metaphorical and opaque and that nonlinguistic intuition, totally literal and transparent to reality, is undeniably dualistic; hence there must be continuity as well as discontinuity between thought and intuition, between prose and poetry, between symbolic language and the absolute reality to which it refers. The ultimate, in short, cannot be regarded as utterly ineffable (or the symbol as merely symbolic, or the body as a mere vehicle of absolute spirit) if we seek a truly uncompromising wholeness, a thoroughly coherent holism.

Rosen parts company both with those versions of mysticism which finally dismiss language and embodiment and the "merely phenomenal world ,"as well as with the postmodernist's insistence that language is all, and that objective reality is nothing more than the texts we happen to read (and we can choose to interpret them any way we like). Neither a relativist nor an absolutist, he calls for a transcendence of these polar opposites, and he takes his visionary cue from the Moebius strip and the Klein bottle. For Rosen, these paradoxical forms arc more than mere models; for a mere model, like a mere symbol, is apart from the thing modeled or symbolized. Yet how can this unity of symbol and referent be expressed in words?"

If I am seeking wholeness in the fullest meaning of the word," Rosen writes, "it is not enough for me merely to write about it; wholeness must be embodied in my own way of writing" (p. 269). How does one put one's whole self into the process of inquiry, and what is this "self" thus interjected? These are difficult questions for both Rosen and his readers to grapple with.

This is an exceptionally sophisticated work which requires complete and careful attention. Rosen is a profound thinker who has made an important contribution to contemporary debates.


Winter 1996