Book Reviews 1999

Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile. By John Shelby Spong. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998, Hardback, xxiii + 258 pages.

Bishop John Shelby Spong's book provides a stunning criticism challenging organized Christianity with a commonplace observation that thoughtful, postmodern churchgoers can no longer with integrity worship the personal, theistic God venerated through the centuries with the Lord's Prayer, the orthodox creeds, and the Eucharistic sacrifice. Like his distinguished American predecessor, Episcopal Bishop James Albert Pike, Spong admonishes contemporary Christians to change the traditional God image from an unbelievable theistic father figure to the gracious creative source sustaining all being and to present Jesus as a model exemplifying love and human potential rather than a divine messenger dispatched by God to rescue fallen humanity. Spong advises Western religious leaders to relinquish the persuasive manipulation with which they dominate passive churchgoers and to consider unconventional concepts about divinity, afterlife, prayer, worship, ethics, and community.

Within the worldwide religious community, Spong is perceived variously, depending upon the observer's religious perspective. The English theologian is renounced as an embarrassment whom the House of Bishops should censor; simultaneously he is praised as a passionate, progressive critic who provides, even amid controversy, strength and hope to contemporary Christians seeking an honest, living faith with which they can confront pressing problems. Spong is condemned as an articulate atheist who battles the heavenly hosts; or he is seen as one struggling to cast the anachronisms encumbering orthodoxy into history's awaiting dustbin.

What surprises readers about Spong's recent book is the generally mild, unoffensive ideas that provoke fierce controversy among the conservatives of the church. He characterizes God not as a being to whom humans have access but as a presence discovered within the depths of one's being, the capacity to love, the ability to live, and the courage to be. The distinction between these two perspectives is not clear, but suggests a welcome religious humanism.

Prayer is not necessarily words directed heavenward, but simply being present, sharing love, and opening life to transcendence. Renouncing the Eucharist, Spong concludes that a ceremony in which ordained hands transform ordinary elements into Jesus' body and blood will cease. Rejecting the vicarious atonement, the Bishop states that he "would choose to loathe rather than to worship a deity who requires the sacrifice of his son."

Spong's convictions were known and accepted among intelligent and thoughtful individuals centuries ago. The current controversy revived by the Bishop's unorthodoxy indicates the enormous chasm that separates open-minded inquirers from the conservative, apprehensive churchmen clinging desperately to concepts that lost credibility centuries ago. Sometimes the intellectual distance among contemporary Christians seems so vast that the instruments of astronomers are needed to calculate the space.


January/February 1999

Yoga and the Teaching of Krishna: Essays on the Indian Spiritual Traditions. By Ravi Ravindra. Ed. Priscilla Murray. Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House. 1998. Paper and hardback, xii + 390 pages.

Christ the Yogi: A Hindu Reflection on the Gospel of John. By Ravi Ravindra. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1998. (Orig. Yoga of the Christ, 1990.) Paperback. xii + 244 pages.

These two volumes by Ravi Ravindra, an active and highly respected Theosophical worker and thinker, will be eagerly welcomed by many travelers on the world's spiritual paths. A professor of both physics and comparative religion at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, trained in both traditional Hindu Vedantic thought and modern science and philosophy, Ravindra is especially accomplished in the creative integration of the Ancient Wisdom and current scientific thought.

That perspective is particularly evident in Yoga and the Teaching of Krishna, a collection of a selection of this prolific writer's essays from many sources and many years. Included are some which I consider absolute gems of cross-cultural collation and perception, including "Perception in Yoga and Physics," "The Indian View of Nature," "Modern Science and Spiritual Traditions," and "Is the Eternal Everlasting?" Compositions like these are not only comparative intellectual exercises, bur clearly the fruit of personal spiritual experience as well as rich personal East-West exploration on many levels, all of which have served as catalysts to bring together various worlds too often separated today--east and west, science and mysticism, heart and mind. Highly recommended to all of those who wish to practice what the title of the opening essay calls "Religion in the Global Village."

Christ the Yogi is a reprint of a work first published in England in 1990 under the title Yoga of the Christ. Both titles are unfortunate insofar as they may serve to put off serious Western Christian readers who would greatly profit from this dazzlingly brilliant spiritual and cross-cultural study of the most mystical of the books of the Bible, the Gospel of John. To them the mention of Yoga might suggest one of those books making far-out claims about Jesus and India, or at best an interpretation of the gospel narrowly based on some Hindu discipline. Actually Ravindra's work is thoroughly in the "mainstream" tradition of esoteric Christian readings of scripture going back to the Greek fathers of the Church and including such modern Theosophists as C. W. Leadbeater and Geoffrey Hodson. The author's focus is always on the text itself.

To be sure, Ravindra often cites parallels to the inner meaning of the text in classic Hindu works, most often the Bhagavad Gita. But the focus is not on making the author of the Gospel of John into a Hindu, but rather on finding in his gospel universal meaning that is also reflected in Hinduism. That search begins with the importance of the "I am," Jesus' Johannine self-designation, which to Ravindra suggests the inner oneness with the divine that is at the heart of Vedanta.

Ravindra's case, as is appropriate to such levels of spiritual realization, rests not so much on argument as on deep inward understanding, and Ravindra's profound, evocative writing on one of the world's greatest spiritual classics leads one well along the road to that kind of understanding. At the same time, it may be added, the author does not overlook the contributions of modern New Testament scholarship to placing the gospel properly in its time, place, and purpose. Christ the Yogi will be a wonderful addition to the library of all those interested in the revival of esoteric Christianity in our time, and no less in their own spiritual growth. Few will finish this book unchanged, either intellectually or spiritually.


January/February 1999

Unfinished Animal: The Aquarian Frontier and the Evolution of Consciousness. By Theodore Roszak. New York: Harper &Row, 1975. 271 pp.

Roszak begins by observing the increasing number of "bright, widely read, well-educated people whose style it has become to endorse and accept all thing occultly marvelous. In such circles, skepticism is a dead language, intellectual caution an outdated fashion" (2). His catalog of credulities is, if anything, modest by current standards. Cayce's psychic readings, pyramids built by ancient astronauts, or gone boxes, settlement: of the continents from Lemuria. "Such intellectual permissiveness," Roszak comments, "risks a multitude of sins, not the least of which is plain gullibility."

That observation does not, however, introduce an equally gullible Skeptical Inquirer expose. Instead, Roszak finds, "in this rising curiosity for the marvelous, the popular unfolding of an authentically spiritual quest" leading to "a transformation of human personality in progress which is of evolutionary proportions, a shift of consciousness fully as epoch-making as the appearance of speech or of the tool-making talents in our cultural repertory" (3).

Helena Blavatsky receives extended treatment: (117-25) as the founding mother of the pilgrimage to what: Roszak calls the "Aquarian Frontier," the recognition that consciousness evolves as well as body:

It is not HPB's controversial reputation or personal angularities that concern us here, but rather her ideas. For ultimately she stands or falls by the quality of her thinking, all arguments ad feminam aside. And in this regard, she is surely among the most original and perceptive minds of her time. [118]

HPB stands forth as a seminal talent of our time. Given the rudimentary condition of her sources, her basic intuition (or the teachings of the ancient occult- schools was remarkably astute. And there is no denying her precocity in recognizing how essential a contribution those schools, together with comparative mythology and the Eastern religions, had to make to the discussion of evolving consciousness. [124]

Above all, she is among the modern world's trailblazing psychologists of the visionary mind. At the same historical moment that Freud, Pavlov, and James had begun to formulate the secularized and materialist theory of mind that has so far dominated modern Western thought, HPB and her fellow Theosophists were rescuing from occult tradition and exotic religion a forgotten psychology of the superconscious and the extrasensory. [124]

In a footnote to the last statement, Roszak calls Annie Besant's 1904 lectures published as Theosophy and the New Psychology  "as fresh and ambitious a treatise on the higher sanity as anything produced by the latest consciousness research." It is refreshing to have Blavatsky and Besant given such forthright acknowledgment for their pioneering efforts in re-presenting the Wisdom Tradition of the ancients to modern people.


January/February 1999

The Best Guide to Meditation. By Victor N. Davich. Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1998. Paperback, xxi + 350 pages.

Twenty-Five Doors to Meditation: A Handbook for Entering Samadhi. By William Bodri and Lee Shu·Mei. York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1998. Paperback, xxii + 252 pages.

I am biased. I believe that one's time is far better spent in meditation than in accumulating more information about meditation. For the seasoned practitioner who already has chosen a meditative path, reading about all the other options often brings confusion. And for the beginner, all that is required is a one-liner- "Sit, follow your breath, and let's talk again in a year."

So I am not certain who the appropriate audience is for these two new additions to the meditative canon. The Best Guide to Meditation is packaged like a travel guide and indeed takes the reader around the world in such a comprehensive account of meditative traditions that one is left exhausted and overwhelmed. Do we really need to confuse beginning meditators with detailed instructions of the Namibian Bone Meditation, which involves the use of six chicken bones, four stones, and two pieces of tree bark as tools for oracular divination? This from the same author Victor Davich-who wisely states repeatedly in the opening chapters that "the only way to really understand meditation is to meditate" and then adequately provides the very basic instructions required to begin.

The back cover of the Guide is designed to attract readers who I suspect aren't reading this issue of Quest. "Who meditates .. aside from Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama and The Beatles? Well, Goldie Hawn… and Howard Stern to name a few." I'm not certain who would be grabbed by such an approach, but it represents a marketing mentality that is attempting to "sell" meditation to the masses. In itself, this is not an ignoble goal. But it gives me the uneasy feeling that the already saturated spiritual supermarket in America is about to become a department store. "Want instant gratification?" the cover blurb asks and answers, "Go directly to chapter 2 and you will start meditating immediately!" As if fast-food motivations- getting what you crave, NOW! -can be applied to meditation, which is a process of letting go of all craving.

But to the author's credit, an unsuspecting reader could randomly flip open the Guide almost anywhere and stumble onto a life-changing idea because virtually all of the great teachings of the world's religions are in there, somewhere. Davich succeeds in providing a thorough, albeit oversimplified, overview of human spiritual traditions and practices, anyone of which pursued with single-minded intention would most certainly yield wonderful fruits. But again, the very structure and vast range of the Guide works against the one-pointed, simple approach necessary for the beginner to cultivate a useful meditation practice.

Twenty-Five Doors to Meditation is a more sophisticated work and derives from a Buddhist Sutra in which twenty-five students respond to the Buddha's request to describe the various "dharma doors" they had used to attain samadhi. Each chapter of the book presents a fairly brief introduction to a practice that is presumably derived from this sutra, although the correlation isn't always clear.

The practices described range from the familiar ones of mindfulness meditations, pranayama, bhakti yoga, and prayer, but also include more obscure approaches including the "Zhunti, Vairocana and Amitofo" mantras, and my personal favorite, the "Dazzling White Skeleton Contemplation," in which "you must imagine you are dead and that all your skin and internal organs soften and putrefy. Using an imaginary knife, you cut up your dead body and offer all your organs, skin, flesh and blood to all the demons and ghosts to eat and drink."

As a "Handbook for Entering Samadhi," as the subtitle asserts, everything one needs is included. Someone committing themselves to any one of these twenty-five dharma doors would find themselves on a legitimate and potentially enlightening spiritual path. But for most of us, particularly beginners, it only takes two words, not two books, to provide all the meditation guidance we need: "Just sit."


March/April 1999

The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image. By Leonard Shlain. New York: Viking, 1998. Hardback, xvi + 464 pages.

History, Henry Ford testified in a libel suit against the Chicago Tribune, is bunk. Historians, both professional and amateur, keep trying to prove that the father of the Model T was wrong, their favorite defense being the discovery of causal patterns in historical events. Leonard Shlain, a professional surgeon and amateur historian, is a counsel for the defense.

His brief, The Alphabet versus the Goddess, was bred by Marshall McLuhan out of Marija Gimbutas. A generation ago, McLuhan proposed that the way we say things is actually more important than what we say: the medium is the message. The "same" information conveyed in different ways is in fact different information, for the manner and style of delivery change the import of the information. Within the past" decade, Gimbutas's work has been invoked in support of a new view of prehistoric Europe as a peaceful society devoted to Mother-Goddess worship before the rowdy Father-God-honoring Indo-Europeans swooped down on them and made a mess of things.

Shlain's take on these two ideas focuses on the effect of the development of writing, especially the alphabet. He sees the alphabet as having a powerful influence on how literate people view the world, specifically in promoting left-brain, male orientation over right-brain, feminine perceptions and responses. Although Shlain tries to give the alphabetical devil its due by acknowledging that literacy has its blessings, the tenor of his work is otherwise: the alphabet, by promoting unbalanced male aggressiveness in human behavior, has been the great villain of history through promoting male chauvinism in Europe and other unfortunately literate lands.

Here are some statements of the thesis: "Every society that has acquired alphabet literacy has become violently self-destructive a short time afterward" (77). "A culture's first contact with the alphabet drives it mad. Hunter-killer values thrust to the fore, and nationalism, imperialism, and bloody religious revolution follow" (419).

This alphabetical thesis is set in the context of a kind of Social Darwinism. The story is that, when our hominid ancestors came down from the trees, a variety of anatomical changes evolved, one of whose consequences was to put females at a disadvantage in getting food and making them dependent on the largesse of predatory males, who used their new dominance to their own advantage in breeding. From there it was all downhill. The eventual development of the alphabet was the nail in the coffin of arboreal Eden.

This thesis depends on a series of correspondences. On the one hand, we have left-brain dominance, masculinity, linearity, aggressiveness, alphabetical writing, and so on. On the other hand, we have right-brain dominance, femininity, spatial relations, cooperation, pictorial representation, and so on. The thesis posits that the development of alphabetical writing changed the structure of the brain and accentuated all the left-brain functions. So the decline of human history and what's wrong with the world are due to males and the alphabet. These correspondences form a neat set for which, however, evidence is either thin or nonexistent.

In addition, there is a little problem. The supposedly masculine feature of linearity that Shlain sees in the alphabet is really secondary in writing, being derived from spoken language, which is distinctly linear as well as hierarchical. Sounds come one after another in time, a feature imitated in writing by having letters come one after another in space. Sounds make lip words, which make up sentences, which make up discourses-a distinctly hierarchical structure, imitated in writing. If there is a villain here, it is speech. In fact, a case can be made for speech being more left-brain and masculine-like than written language. Speech happens in time, whereas writing is located in right-brain space. Speech is more abstract than writing, for it is wave impulses in the air, whereas writing is solid material right-brain stuff. Speech is wholly nonpictorial, whereas writing has right-brain pictorial or design potentials, such as Islamic calligraphy or concrete poetry (in which the words of a poem are arranged in the shape of an object or pattern).

If the brain was modified in a masculine, linear way, that modification must have occurred when language evolved, very long before alphabetical or any other writing developed. Hence in our Eden we would have been not just illiterate, but dumb.

The factual errors in the book would take more space to detail than is worth devoting to their listing. A couple of examples must suffice. Purdah (the segregation of women) is said to be a Hindu practice (159); the word is Hindi, but the practice is primarily Muslim. The Aryan invaders are said to have found Sanskrit in India (161)j Sanskrit was the language of the invading Aryans, being sister to the Iranian languages and first cousin to Greek, Latin, and English. The ranks of the Buddha's disciples are said to have excluded women (174); women are reported in Buddhist writings to have been followers of the Buddha during his lifetime.

This effort at rewriting history to show that our ills are the result of male aggression and the alphabet may be politically correct, but it is doctrinaire rather than factual. It proves that Henry Ford was right. History is bunk. But herstory like this is even greater bunkom.


March/April 1999

Emerson among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait. By Carlos Baker. New York: Viking, 1996. Paperback, xv + 608 pages.

Emerson: The Mind on Fire. By Robert D. Rlchardson, Jr. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Paperback, xiii + 671 pages.

Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. By David S. Reynolds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. Hardcover, xii + 671 pages.

Two literary giants whose writings enrich American culture live and breathe in these biographies that place the authors within their contexts and establish them properly in American intellectual history.

Princeton University's Carlos Baker, the mentor of several successive student generations who became remarkable scholars, crowned his career with this study in which he pictures nineteenth-century Concord, Massachusetts, as a creative Mecca that fostered a congenial, colorful community composed of unconventional intellectuals. Presenting Emerson as the preeminent resident of Concord, Baker treats such other personalities as Emerson's Aunt Mary Moody, his wife Lidian, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Jones Very, William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, and John Brown.

Robert Richardson's Emerson: The Mind on Fire supplements his Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind. The biographer pictures Emerson as student, Harvard Divinity School theologian, mystic, nature lover, independent scholar, Transcendentalist philosopher, passionate liver championing intellectual freedom, and a preeminent contributor to the nation's literature and culture. He presents Emerson as a thinker with an unfathomed emotional depth and as a mystic pulsating with enormous intellectual intensity.

Among the most enlightening and engaging biographies describing the Brooklyn poet Walt Whitman is David Reynolds's Walt Whitman's America. In it, he penetrates the psychological landscape within the poet's personality and reconstructs Whitman's intellectual world. In this biography describing nineteenth-century America and the author of Leaves of Grass, Reynolds greatly enriches American intellectual history.


March/April 1999

Victorian Fairy Painting. Ed. Jane Martineau. London: Merrell Holberton, 1997. Paperback, $29.95, 160 pages.

This work is the catalog of an exhibit organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the University of Iowa Museum of Art. The exhibit was also shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, and the Frick Collection, New York. In addition to the catalog proper, consisting of reproductions of the works exhibited with descriptions of them and biographies of the artists, the book contains seven introductory essays on the artistic popularity of the fairy theme in Victorian England.

The first of those essays begins, "Fairy painting, particularly when produced in its Golden Age, between 1840and 1870, is a peculiarly British contribution to the development of Romanticism" (11). Although fairy-like beings populate the lore of cultures all over the world, the modern image of the fairy was largely molded by Victorian productions of Shakespeare's plays, particularly Midsummer Night's Dream, which provided subjects for many of the paintings in this exhibit. Victorian interest in fairies was also reinforced by nineteenth-century spiritualism and its promise of contact with another world.

Two prominent artists in the fairy painting tradition were Richard Doyle and his brother Charles Doyle, the father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And thereby hangs a tale. Arthur Conan Doyle was interested in spiritualism partly because of the early death of his son and in fairies because of his father's and uncle's paintings. He published an article in the Strand Magazine on "Fairies Photographed: An Epic-Making Event" and in 1922 expanded it into a book, The Coming of the Fairies.

The photographs in question (known as the "Cottingley photographs" from a Yorkshire village) were taken by two girls, ten and sixteen years old, who maintained that they really saw fairies but who faked the photographs with cutout figures in order to convince their doubting family. They also convinced an over-credulous Conan Doyle. A Theosophist-Scientist, Edward L. Gardner, later wrote an account of the event as he knew it: Fairies: The Cottingley Photographs and Their Sequel (1945). But the fakery was not exposed until years later, when one of the girls, having grown into an old woman, explained exactly how she and her cousin had arranged the hoax. Yet the perpetrators of the fraud continued to maintain that they had actually seen fairies and only faked the pictures.

An account of the Cottingley photographs was presented in a 1997" movie, Fairytale-A True Story (reviewed in Quest 96.1 [January 1998], 16-17). The movie's version of events played somewhat loose with the facts, but preserved faithfully the ambiguity in the reality of the Cottingley fairies and their photographs. The chief historical inaccuracy in the movie was the transfer of Doyle's credulity to Gardner, who in fact was the more skeptical of the two. What the whole Cottingley episode shows, however, is the abiding fascination fairies have had for English people and others. The lure of Fairie (to use J. R. R. Tolkien's archaic spelling) did not end with the Victorian paintings.

The paintings in this work are a fascinating collection of the graphically elaborate, decorative, mystical, fantastic, hallucinatory, quaint, erotic, charming, evocative, epic, otherworldly, engaging, and esthetic. They are a testament to high Victoriana and to the fascination humans have always felt for another dimension of reality. In that regard, they bear witness to an important fact, namely, that reality is not limited to what our senses can perceive. There have always been those-some of them quite sensible, practical people- who have claimed to have access to another level of reality, a parallel world, as it were. Unless one is a fundamentalist skeptic, there are no grounds for denying the possible reality of such a parallel world.

Most of all, fairy lore-both older and contemporary-speaks to our sense of the fullness and the complexity of the world. The word world comes from Anglo-Saxon wer-eald, the age of man. But that etymological sense is much too limited. The world is not limited to human beings and our concerns-shoes and ships and scaling wax. It embraces far more, including otters and owls and oaks. Indeed, as this exhibit and its catalog show, it also includes frights and fun, fantasies and fairies.


May/June 1999

The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. By Georg Feuerstein. Foreword b yKen Wilber. Prescott, AZ: Hohm, 1998. Paperback, xxxii + 686 pages.

Georg Feuerstein has been a vigorous student-scholar of India's religio-philosophical traditions since his fourteenth birthday, when he was given a copy of Paul Brunton's In Search of Secret India. His ongoing penetration into the mysteries and profundities of this most spiritually astute country has led to the publication of more than thirty books and many articles. He ranks high within the top echelon of the world's most prolific, informed, insightful, and lucid writers on the spirituality of India. As ably stated by Ken Wilber in his foreword to The Yoga Tradition, "in Georg Feuerstein we have a scholar-practitioner of the first magnitude, an extremely important and valuable voice for the perennial philosophy, and arguably the foremost authority on Yoga today."

The author states his objective clearly: "to give the lay reader a systematic and comprehensive introduction to the many-faceted phenomenon of Indian spirituality, especially in its Hindu variety, while at the same time summarizing in broad outlines what scholarship has discovered about the evolution of Yoga thus far." The Yoga Tradition is simultaneously (1) a pleasantly readable story of the development and practice of Yoga and (2) a volume of encyclopedic proportions to which the interested student can return again and again for review and the checking of factual data.

The readability of The Yoga Tradition is provided by the author's lucid and engaging writing style, as well as by the format and appearance of the book. Printed in double columns, many pages display bordered quotations of key textual passages. More than 200 illustrations, consisting of photographs (historical persons, sculptured images), line drawings (deities, mythic persons, Yogic postures), diagrams, charts, maps, and lists that summarize comprehensive topics, add to the reading pleasure. Crucial terms and expressions are frequently presented in bold Sanskrit lettering along with English transliteration, thereby allowing the interested student to learn to write and pronounce the formative concepts that make up Yoga.

One of the most useful features of the book lies in the 21 translations of foundational texts. About half of these are translated entirely, with extensive selections from the others. One of the texts, the Goraksha-Paddhati (at 28 pages, the longest of those included), is here translated into English for the first time. Where needed, Feuerstein interpolates helpful clarification and commentary as the translations unfold.

The user-friendly and scholarly nature of the book is enhanced further by the transliteration and pronunciation guide, the endnotes numbering nearly 450, the chronology extending from 250,000 BCE (evidence of the earliest humans on the Indian subcontinent) to 1947CE (India's national independence), a 12-page glossary, an extensive bibliography, and a detailed index, which makes the book particularly useful as a reference tool.

The opening chapters of The Yoga Tradition provide an overview of the subject, with subsequent chapters following a roughly chronological order. The main historical periods are Pre-Classical, Classical, and Post-Classical. Yoga is explicated as it appears in the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and numerous expressions that subsequently developed prior to modern times. Representative of the many forms of Yoga treated are Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja, and Kundalini. The historical review ends with Tantra and Hatha Yoga. The comprehensive coverage of the book is seen not only in Feuerstein's vast presentation of Hindu Yoga but also in his inclusion of chapters on Yoga as it developed in India's three smaller indigenous traditions, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Finally, the author's lifetime involvement in the spirituality of India, resulting in a simultaneous breadth and depth of understanding, is reflected in his ability to distill accurately the distinctive spirit of the native traditions making up India's complex religious heritage. In the book, for example, Hinduism is summarily characterized as a religion of "breathtaking non-dualist metaphysics," Buddhism for its "stringent analytical approach to spiritual life," and Jainism by its "rigorous observance of moral precepts, especially nonviolence."


May/June 1999

Other Creations: Rediscovering the Spirituality of Animals. By Christopher Manes. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Hardback, xii + 240 pages.

Compelled by his daughter's innocent question regarding the death of her pet rabbit, author Christopher Manes embarked on a study of the connection between animals and religion. Not satisfied with his own answer about the rabbit's fate-a journey to "rabbit heaven”- Manes realized that the question was "merely the tip of a vast iceberg concerning our spiritual relations with animals."

The book begins with an account of animals' involvement in early religious systems, including Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Native American. Citing a work entitled the Physiologus, probably composed by an Egyptian monk about 300 AD, Manes gives examples of the historical role of animals in human spirituality. This book was the predecessor of the many Western bestiaries used by Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. In the second section of his book, "Animal Pans," Manes examines such topics as healing with the aid of animals, meat-eating, animal sacrifice, exorcism through swine, kosher dietary laws, and the Lamb of God.

Often poignant, always insightful, Manes takes the reader on a journey through the wilderness, observing animals in such diverse roles as tribal protectors, children's playthings, and sacred spirits. One such animal is the bear, whose image is the epitome of strength in battle, yet whose cuddly face is as familiar as a stuffed toy. The bear's power is so great that its very name is unspoken, the animal being referred to only as "the brown one" from earliest Germanic times. In other cultures, the bear is known as "winter sleeper," "forest master," "beewolf," or simply the "unmentionable one."

From the caves of Lascaux to the camera lens of James Balog, Manes examines the use of animals in both art and spirituality. Rich with poetry and metaphor, the stories Manes relates touch a sacredness often overlooked in an increasingly mechanical environment. Through these stories, Manes involves us in the question of how we can "again embody our spirituality in the living, organic world of bird wings, coyote music, and the inexplicable migrations of frogs under the garden gate." Manes emphasizes that "we discover spiritual values through animals," rather than merely embody religious themes in animal imagery. Animal lovers, theologians, and literary students will find material ranging from alphabets to zoology in this broad-minded, well-researched, and thought-provoking book.


May/June 1999

Becoming Osiris: The Ancient Egyptian Death Experience. By Ruth Schumann-Antelme and Stephane Rossini. Trans. Jon Graham. Rochester, VT. Inner Traditions, 1998. Paperback, xiv + 126 pages.

This text is well researched, well put together, and beautifully designed and illustrated. Sadly, it does not live up to its subtitle.

It is a very difficult task to resurrect Osiris, not to mention to become Him. It took Isis a great deal of time, energy, sleuthing, and magic-making to find and reconstitute all fourteen parts of the dissected divine body, finding one tiny leg bone or back bone at a time and blowing off the dust. That said, it may be enough that Antelme has found a few bones of Osiris, already well picked over by so many Egyptological buzzards, and reexamined them. She docs note a few interesting bits of often overlooked information.

It may not be fair to insist that the author uplift and transform our understanding of the Osirian tradition wholly. Yet this book does not explain the ancient Egyptian belief in resurrection or the secret of "becoming" Osiris. It does not clarify the meaning of the Osirian Mysteries that so influenced the Greek mystical traditions. It does not offer a full understanding of the various landscapes of the Land of the Dead. It does not give much more than a blurb about the history of the near-death experience, or clarify the similarities and differences between the Egyptian realm, Amentet, and the Tibetan Bardo.

But the book has great pictures—wonderful line art that might make an Egyptian scribe proud. For that reason alone, I can recommend the book. The text, however, seems to be a gloss of Budge's famed Papyrus of Ani version of the Book of the Dead. It could be most fruitfully used, perhaps, by a beginning reader in tandem with Budge's translation and copy of the glyphs. It at least keeps the sacred text from looking like total gobbledygook.

There is no major "aha!" to be had here, but a few mild eyebrow raises might suffice for those with literalist interpretations of Egyptian myth and history. Antelme timidly goes-but nevertheless goes-where darn few Egyptologists dare to have gone before. The author suggests such irreverent ideas as these: the pyramids may have been initiation chambers; the loot in the tombs is more about magic than taking it with you; the Egyptians had complex ideas about sacred geometry and number, and maybe the secret initiations were a little like near-death experiences. These ideas, however, already will be familiar to readers of Schwaller de Lubica, John West, Jeremy Naydler, Robert Masters, Robert Buvall, and Graham Hancock.

It may be a dry bone, but it's at least something for the academics to chew on.


May/June 1999

O Lanoo! The Secret Doctrine Unveiled. By Harvey Tordoff. Illus. Nina O'Connell. Forres, Scotland; Tallahassee, FL: Findhorn Press, 1999. Paperback, 126 pages.

This is a rather curious book by an author whose name is unfamiliar to this reviewer. All we know of Harvey Tordoff is what he himself tells us in the introduction--that he read the abridged version of The Secret Doctrine as a teenager, that he is a retired accountant at present living in the English Lake District, and that he has now read the complete edition of H. P. Blavatsky's most famous work.

Finding The Secret Doctrine a truly formidable work, Tordoff set himself the task of rewriting the basic story. More correctly, we should say that he decided to translate (there is really no other word) the "Stanzas of Dzyan," on which Blavatsky based her two volumes, into a kind of contemporary English. His translation includes, in very abbreviated form, some of Blavatsky's explanations. The result is this slim volume of approximately 10,000 words in the form of an epic "poem." Whereas Blavatsky, in volume 1 of her work, interrupted her commentaries between slokas 4 and 5 of stanza 6, to discuss such topics as the planetary chains, the human principles, the triple evolutionary scheme, classes of monads, and so on, Tordoff summarizes that material in a poetic "aside." And he concludes his epic with an epilogue based on Blavatsky's own conclusion.

The title Tordoff has chosen for his poetic retelling of the stanzas is taken, of course, directly from the stanzas, the term, "lanoo" being simply the mode of address by a teacher to a student or disciple. Black and white illustrations introduce the reader to each section of the text, conveying by means of simple line drawings something of the stanzas' content.

Although it was not Tordoff's intent, or so it seems from his introductory statement, to interpret Blavatsky's work, any rephrasing of the stanzas is inevitably an interpretation of the multilayered meanings of Blavatsky's original translation of these mystical verses from what she claimed to be an ancient tongue she referred to as Senzar. Students of The Secret Doctrine will not all agree, therefore, with the interpretation imposed by the translation or rewording of those stanzas. Nor, of course, does the rephrasing capture the flavor of the words used by Blavatsky, often to express the inexpressible. Just one example, the simplest, may suffice: sloka 2 of stanza 1, as Blavatsky wrote it, is "Time was not, for it lay asleep in the infinite bosom of duration"; for Tordoff this has become: "Time did not exist, / For what is Time / Without a stare of consciousness? / The illusion of Time / Was waiting to be born / With your perception of changing Matter."

O Lanoo! should be read, then, as one student's effort-a commendable one, we must add-to understand Blavatsky's exposition, particularly those magnificent stanzas on which her work is based and which, when read in the form in which she presented them, do indeed stir the heart, excite the mind, and even awaken the intuition, as she intended they would. But if the neophyte, the aspiring student first coming to Blavatsky's work, thinks Tordoff's translation is a substitute for the original, he or she will be mistaken. No rephrasing can compare to the poetic beauty, the lofty vision, the majesty and power of the words given by Blavatsky to those stanzas that provide the basis for the esoteric story of the origins of a universe and of our humanity.


July/August 1999

The Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness. By David Marshak. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. Paperback, xii + 246 pages.

This book is a valuable tool for parents and educators. The author, currently a professor in the School of Education at Seattle University, Washington, describes the philosophies of early twentieth-century spiritual teachers Rudolf Steiner, Aurobindo Ghose, and Hazrat Inayat Khan relating to human unfoldment, child rearing, and educational practices from birth to age twenty-one.

This work is unique in its scope both because it describes a spiritual dimension lacking in other parenting and educational literature and because it compares and contrasts the writings of three teachers from distinctly different traditions. Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan were contemporaries, all publishing major works early in the twentieth century. Each found that his spiritual quest led him beyond the limitations and values of his own particular religion, culture, and history. In the end, the three shared a common vision of human unfolding based on a spiritual understanding of reality.

As Marshak describes the common vision, the human being is a system of interrelated and interpenetrating energy fields-physical, vital, mental, and spiritual. All beings are organic wholes, with their own spiritual natures, innate wisdom, motive force, and inner teacher. The fields are interrelated with each other and the external world as they unfold. The "qualities" that parents and teachers express are important in this process. Love and wisdom are keys that help to guide and nurture children so that they can recognize their own inner teacher. According to the common vision, parents and teachers are as effective as their commitment to their own self-unfolding.

Maria Montessori, another contemporary who developed a philosophy and methodology of spiritual education, has not been left out of this treatment. Although she differed in some fundamental principles and methodologies, she also articulated much of the common vision. Some of the most important ways in which her vision is identical with or similar to that of Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan are listed in an endnote (223-6).

Marshak has written a guidebook to spiritual education. He writes simply and clearly, without losing the depth of his subject. The book is well-organized and user-friendly. The Common Vision sketches the lives of the three spiritual teachers, describes their concepts, takes us to classrooms where each of the visions are being applied, reports the views of teachers and administrators on both applications and methodology, points out commonalties and differences, shares the author's concerns about particular philosophical principles, and focuses on the principles that he regards as relevant today.

Marshak makes it clear that the common vision doesn't end with his book. Readers are invited to build on the common vision with their own insights, discrimination, and common sense. They are called to action-to share the common vision with others-because the future of our world depends upon all of us actively participating in the ongoing evolution of this planet. This is a worthwhile book for anyone interested in parenting and education.


July/August 1999

Holistic Science and Human Values. Transactions 3, Theosophy Science Centre. Adyar, Chennai (600 020, India): Theosophical Society, 1997. Paperback, iv + 166 pages.

This is the third in a series of transactions published by the Theosophy Science Center at approximately two-year intervals. It consists of twelve articles. Most are reprinted from elsewhere, although this does not detract from the value of the collection. There are some very good articles but the quality is variable.

As befits the title, the emphasis is on what may generally, though not exclusively, be regarded as soft science, philosophy, religion, and specific Theosophical concepts. Clearly the aim, is for an integrative approach directed toward a Theosophical readership.

In a thought-provoking article, Ramakrishna Rao suggests that paranormal phenomena and revelatory religious experiences may both be examples of direct access to consciousness, independent of sensory processes. K. T. Selvan, in "Scientific Thought and Education towards an Open Society," presents a brief historical perspective on science, stressing that scientific concepts often have to be modified by new information. In discussing Galileo's overthrow of the geocentric model, he asserts that Galileo presented no facts to support a moving earth nor observations to refute the geocentric view. Yet Galileo did observe with his telescope the moons of Jupiter revolving about the planet, which helped to convince him of the falsity of the geocentric theory.

Particularly interesting is a long article of 36 pages in two parts by John Cobb entitled "The Effect of Religion on Science." It consists of two lectures, whose time and location of delivery are not stilted. Cobb, who is a leading exponent of process thought, following Alfred North Whitehead, is emeritus professor of Theology at Claremont Graduate School in California. He argues persuasively that the type of science undertaken in a particular society is strongly governed by what he refers to as "the soul of its culture," which is closely related to its religious beliefs and outlook. For example, modern analytical science could not have developed in a country like India with a more holistic outlook. On the other hand, the Christian culture of medieval Europe was critically apposite for the development of Western science, as we know it today.

At first these notions seem surprising but they are convincingly argued. In Christianity the world is created by God and ruled by God's laws, which are supreme. Newton and his contemporaries were concerned to elucidate God's laws and to express them mathematically Then a later generation found that they could do very well with the fundamental laws and mathematics, without any concept of God.

Further developments in science, especially the evolution of species, have caused considerable tension in the Christian churches between those who wish to seek accommodation with science and the fundamentalists who reject science for a literal interpretation of the Bible. Cobb argues for changes in the attitude of both religion and science to reach a common synthesis, for which he sees process thought as useful. "The world seems to be composed of energy events rather than material substances."

In Cobb's synthesis, "the entities that evolve are purposively acting agents. God is present in each of them influencing them persuasively. God does not control the process or determine the outcome. But it is because of God that the process leads to entities in which purpose plays a larger role. To say all this does not conflict with standard neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory."

The title of Edi Bilimoria's article "Has Science Been Our Greatest Ally?" alludes to a remark in The Mahatma Letters. He argues strongly for a negative answer after reading twelve works by modern scientists, mostly astrophysicists, cosmologists, and theoretical physicists. He specifically excludes scientists such as Capra, Bohm, and Sheldrake, who may lead to the opposite conclusion, on the grounds that they are not sufficiently influential. As he expects that his article will be controversial, I take up the challenge.

It is not surprising that one would reach a negative conclusion on the basis of such an indigestible collection of works. Many of the authors cited (e.g. Hawking) would certainly reinforce that view, but there are influential scientists who can be regarded as at least partial allies, including Paul Davies, whom Bilimoria scorns, perhaps because he skipped over the last chapter of The Mind of God. Bilimoria correctly emphasizes that scientific method may be fine for scientific technology but is unsuitable for "dealing with ultimate verities"; yet he overlooks the fact that this is indeed just what Davies suggests, even indicating that it may be necessary to turn to mysticism to deal with ultimate questions.

Slips are inevitable in a quick read, but there is no reason for a cheap shot at Davies for saying that in Greek philosophy metaphysics originally meant "that which came after physics," while failing to observe that Davies also pointed out that the term was coined because a discussion of "metaphysics" came after that of "physics" in Aristotle's treatise and that its meaning soon became "those topics that lie beyond physics." Bilimoria is justifiably caustic about physicists' attempts to arrive at a "theory of everything" or TOE, yet he fails to notice that Barrow in his book Theories of Everything stresses that no such theory will ever explain the origin of life and consciousness.

I do agree with Bilimoria when he says that while scientists should be free to speculate as they wish, they should be careful to ensure that their untested speculations are not presented as fact. It is the common failure of many scientists to make this distinction clear that leads to much of the angst against scientists apparent in his article. Yet we must not wish to deny them the right to make personal speculative incursions into philosophical or religious questions. When, in discussing concepts of God, Davies indicates that he can believe in "an impersonal creative principle or ground of being which underpins reality," he should be welcomed as an ally.

Bilimoria is scornful of the so-called Big Bang theory, but I must insist, from my base in astrophysics, that the major features of that theory about the evolution of the universe have long since passed beyond the realm of mere speculation. Furthermore, a rapprochement can be reached between the Big Bang theory and the early part of H. P. Blavatsky's major work, The Secret Doctrine.

It is worthy of note that a gathering of leading cosmologists was held recently at the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences at Berkeley, one of whose main issues was how to interpret the birth of the universe in a theistic sense. The magazine New Scientist was criticized by several of its readers for reporting some of the views expressed at this conference, but the editor responded that surely it was of interest that so many scientists at the cutting edge of research in the field hold such views. Information at .

It is important to recognize, as both Bilimoria and Davies point out, each in his own way, that the scientific method of inquiry, based on experimental testing of predictions from. theory, while essential for scientific progress, is not suited for reaching an understanding of ultimate questions. A significant minority of prominent scientists have recognized this, including among others Einstein, Pauli, Schrodinger, Bohm, and Davies. There is thus hope that the prophetic statement of The Mahatma Letters will yet be fulfilled.


July/August 1999

Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary: A Translation and Study of Jigme Lingpa's Dancing Moon in the Water and Dakki’s Grand Secret-Talk, By Janet Gyatso. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998. Hardback, xxiv + 360 pages.

Tibet could count its gross national product as the number of great mystics it has produced. One of the foremost among these in recent centuries was Jigme Lingpa, who lived from 1730 to 1798. This remarkable man transformed the spiritual and intellectual landscape of central Asia.

Jigme Lingpa belonged to a category of Tibetan lama known as terton, or "treasure revealer." Tibetan literature speaks of treasures of body, speech, and mind. The "treasure" in this case is a sacred scripture.

The terton phenomenon has played an important role in the development of Tibetan Buddhism, at least in the Bon and Nyingma schools. Both the fifth and thirteenth Dalai Lamas were treasure revealers, a result of their affiliation with Nyingma lineages. According to tradition, the Indian tantric master Padma Sambhava buried many of his "speech treasures" in the mind streams of his disciples, to be recollected and transcribed by them in future lives when the times were ripe.

Jigme Lingpa was a treasure revealer in the Nyingma tradition. During his career he brought forth hundreds of scriptures, most notably the Longchen Nyingtig, or Heart Drop of the Great Expanse, which today serves as the main pillar of Nyingma spiritual practice. Jigme Lingpa received most of his treasures in a meditation, dream, or trance state. Usually the medium of the transmission was a dakini, or mystical female.

In Apparitions of the Self, Janet Gyatso has translated the two autobiographies of Jigme Lingpa found in his collected works: Dancing Moon in the Water and Dakki's Grand Secret-Talk. These are highly esoteric "secret autobiographies" and, although beautiful in language, are difficult of access for the novice. They describe the visions and mystical revelations Jigme Lingpa experienced during his early life, which inspired him to dedicate himself to meditation, teaching, and writing. Fortunately the translator provides more than two hundred pages of commentary and analysis, thus rendering the texts more comprehensible to readers.

The treasure tradition has produced some of Tibet's most inspired literature. Janet Gyatso has performed a remarkable service by making available to an international audience the story of one of Tibet's great sources of this exotic genre. Her book is academic, and thus is not light reading. However, for those with patience and stamina, it yields a rich perspective on spiritual life that both enlightens and entertains.


September/October 1999

Labrang: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at the Crossroads of Four Civilizations, By Paul Kocol Nietupski. With photographs from the Griebenow Archives. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1999, Paperback, 123 pages.

The monastery of Labrang Tashi Kyil, popularly known to Tibetans simply as Labrang, has played an important role in the history of Tibetan Buddhism and its spread throughout the Mongol and Chinese regions of the north and east of Tibet. Founded between 1709 and 1711 by Jamyang Shepa, a monk from Drepung Gomang Monastery and also an important disciple of the fifth Dalai Lama, it served as a bastion of Tibetan culture over the centuries to follow.

The Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1950s and the ensuing assault on Tibetan culture saw the closure of Labrang (which was turned into a prison camp for high lamas). However, the wave of liberalization that sweet through China in 1979 led to the reopening of its doors. Today it is once again an active spiritual center serving the peoples of this remote and exotic corner of the world.

After his death, the founder of Labrang, Jamyang Shepa, became known as the first Jamyang Shepa, for a young child was identified as his reincarnation and installed in Labrang, a tradition that has continued until today. The second Jamyang Shepa was one of the seventh Dalai Lama's most important disciples and dharma heirs.

Part of the importance of Labrang lay in its location in Amdo, Tibet's enormous northeastern province, which was once more than two million square miles in size. The monastery served as a spiritual liaison for Lhasa with the Mongols to the north and the Manchus to the east--both of whom were devout followers of Tibetan Buddhism. Children from these two regions, as well as from Han China, came to Labrang for training, and over the generations a steady stream of translations of Tibet's ancient scriptures into Mongolian, Manchurian, and Chinese flowed forth from the pens of the monastery's great scholars.

With the rise of Manchuria to rulership of all China, Labrang became the Manchu Emperor's window onto the lands to the west. Moreover, Labrang lay on the Silk Route and was surrounded by Chinese Turkestan, so its links to the Muslim world were also significant.

Between 1922 and 1949 the Griebenow family lived in Labrang as Christian missionaries. They extensively photographed the monastery and its activities, thus creating perhaps the only extant record of traditional life in the Labrang area to survive the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Marion Griebenow returned to his native Minnesota with the photographs that the family had amassed during their two and a half decades at Labrang. Eventually those photographs were donated to Tibet House in New York, thus ensuring their preservation.

The compiler and author of this extraordinary book, Paul Nietupski of John Carroll University, Cleveland, dedicated several years to pouring over the letters and other documents left in the Griebenow estate, as well as to researching the history of Labrang. His publication of the Griebenow photographs, together with his excellent documentation of them, provides a wonderful introduction to this exquisite monastery, as well as to its people and environs.


September/October 1999

Healing from the Heart: A Leading Heart Surgeon Explores the Power of Complementary Medicine, By Mehmet Oz, with Ron Arias and Lisa Oz. New York: Dutton (Penguin Putnam), 1998, Hardcover, xvi + 202 pages.

Healing from the Heart is a frank, sometimes unsettling foray into the world of modern medicine. Mehmet Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon and medical director of Columbia-Presbyterian's Complementary Care Center, weaves an intensely human story. Disease and dying, health and healing are all universal and deeply personal happenings. Healing is in part the story of Mehmet Oz, how the surgeon-scientist comes to bridge the healing ways of West and East. It is the drama of desperately ill heart patients, loved ones, and professional caregivers, who affirm the place and power of integrative medicine. Healing from the Heart is no less a universal story, the play of conflict and change in human affairs, both disturbing and reassuring. As doctor Dean Ornish notes, here is "a glimpse into what the future of medicine is likely to be-if we're lucky."

Conventional (allopathic) Western medicine is based on drugs, surgery, and high technology. Allopathic doctors are expert at treating life-threatening illnesses and managing symptoms of chronic disease. Patients typically expect their doctor to "fix" serious problems and to keep them symptom-free. Traditional, or "complementary" medicine, such as nutrition, acupuncture, yoga, massage, and self-hypnosis, aims at strengthening the whole person. Traditional therapists often require people to change their lifestyle and take responsibility for themselves. Though such therapies are increasingly used by people on their own, conventional doctors discount them as unproven. Mehmet Oz calls for a synthesis of the two approaches, a dual system that is "one universal healing endeavor." He demonstrates why this integration must happen now and how it can be done.

Healing from the Heart is a wake-up call for healthcare workers. It will be a powerful read for people dealing with heart disease. Mehmet Oz is a keen observer and vivid storyteller who tells about things he knows well. Here is the challenge of heart failure, the rigors of openheart surgery, the struggle for stability during recovery, failures to thrive despite superior technical support. His suffering patients compel Dr. Oz to search for therapies that empower them for self-healing. It is their triumphs together, sometimes against