Book Reviews 2002

The Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism: The Gem Ornament of Manifold Oral Instructions Which Benefits Each and Everyone Accordingly. By H. E. Kalu Rinpoche. Ithaca. NY; Snow Lion, 1987, c1999. Paperback. xlv + 193 pages.

Kalu Rinpoche, born in 1905, after many years teaching in Tibet became senior lama of the Karma Kagyu lineage. In 1955 he was sent to India and Bhutan to prepare for the anticipated exodus of Tibetan refugees. In 1971, he began visiting the West to teach. The teachings in this book were delivered at a meditation retreat in Marcola, Oregon, in 1982, and present an overview of Tibetan Buddhism.

The author explains the three ways of Buddhism--Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana--and the ordinary preliminary practices of contemplating the "four thoughts that turn the mind." These are appreciation of the precious opportunity human birth provides; the fact of impermanence and change; the karmic causality between actions and experience; and an awareness of suffering. He gives an explanation of taking refuge in the Dharma (teachings), Sangha (Buddhist community, especially enlightened bodhisattvas), and Buddha, and of the difference between lay vows, the Bodhisattva vow, and the Vajrayana commitment.

The book provides a "big picture" view of Tibetan Buddhism accessible to those with only passing familiarity with the subject. A helpful glossary ends the book.


January/February 2002

Freud, Jung, and Spiritual Psychology By Rudolf Steiner. Intro. Robert Sardello. Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophical Press, 2001. Paperback. 141 pages.

In five lectures, delivered between 1912 and 1921, Steiner takes on the founding fathers of psychoanalysis, first through a reworking of some of their famous case studies and second through a remodeling of this material in terms d his own spiritual psychology. He critiques Freud for his focus on the sexual etiology of psychic illness and critiques both Freud and Jung for stressing the hothouse experience of "transference" as the touchstone of the analytic process. The problem with transference, with its intense activation of childhood Oedipal material that gets projected onto the analyst, is that it allows the analyst to enter psychically into and thus alter the karma of the analysand. Transference is thus an alien power.

Steiner proposes instead a procedure that allows us to distinguish between unconscious (pathological) projections and genuine clairvoyant visions by using the individual will to see if the particular vision or symptom can be dissolved by a concerted mental action. If it cannot be expunged, then it is not a symptom or projection, but objective and a product of higher dimensions of reality than those admitted by psychoanalysis.

Steiner's anthroposophic framework reverses the psychoanalytic understanding of the causal relation of external wound to internal symptom by arguing that we are self-causal before an external symptom is manifest. Only clairvoyant consciousness, not free association combined with libidinal cathexis, can open out the driving forces of the unconscious and liberate them for growth. To accomplish this opening and liberation, we are asked to envision an internal "artificial human being" who stands for the deeper causality behind our triumphs and failures. Once we see that this higher being has actually directed our lives, we can grasp the roles of karma and self-causality, which this artificial human being represents, in making us well and ill. That is, things do not just happen to us; we have directed (caused) them.

Steiner gives a fairly good account of the post-life realms of kamaloka and devachan. The former realm is the first that the soul encounters after the loss of the physical shell and is actually an externalization of our unprocessed internal projections, which are seen in kamaloka (the desire realm) as having objective reality. The subsequent realm of heaven (devachan) allows us to shed our projections and become immersed in the deeper reality beyond projection. In our clairvoyant consciousness, we can allow aspects of these realms into our psyche in the physical realm and thereby gain a more objective understanding of our current, past, and even future lives.

In a deeper and more genuine dialogue between spiritual psychology and psychoanalysis, we must go far beyond Steiner's caricatures of the founders and find room for phenomena he seems to he afraid of, namely, denial, negative transference (like his toward Leadbeater and Krishnamurti}, sexual stasis, and even esoteric projection. His lectures represent a one-sided approach that refuses to engage in the often distasteful work of probing into the shadow and the other non-self-caused aspects of the almost infinite unconscious. In this book, Steiner is as much a polemicist as a genuine explorer. I wish he had been fairer to his honored interlocutors, yet this is a beginning, and one that should be acknowledged for what it has accomplished.


January/February 2002

Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Ed. Wendy Doniger. Springfield. MA: Merriam-Webster, 1999. Hardback, xviii + 1181 pages.

One-volume encyclopedias of religion appear to be a new growth industry. This addition to the field is of a quality associated with the distinguished Merriam-Webster imprint. It has a list of 37 scholarly advisors and authors. It is extensively illustrated with black-and-white pictures, two-color maps, and inserts of full-color plates. It consists of two kinds of articles. Approximately 3500 basic articles vary in length from a few lines to a few pages each; 30 major articles on principal religious traditions and themes run from four to thirty pages. Variant names, spellings, and pronunciations are given, including both those favored by scholars and popular Anglicized ones when they exist.

The entries are readable, informative, clear, engaging, and impartial, although inevitably not always thorough. An instance is the article on "Theosophy." It surveys Western theosophical traditions from Pythagoras to the Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling and Eastern ones from the Vedas to Sufism, giving an accurate overview of some of the characteristics those traditions have in common.

The article's description of the early days of the modern Theosophical Society is fair but has a major lacuna at the time of the .Judge split. Its account of the Society in America thereafter deals solely with the Judge branch, overlooking the reestablishment of Adyar lodges throughout the United States and thus failing to give an adequate picture of American Theosophy after 1895.

The article gives, however, an accurate assessment of the influence of Theosophy on religious thought, which has been far greater than is often recognized, although it overlooks Theosophy's effect on literature, art, and music. It begins by saying that the Theosophical philosophy "has been of catalytic significance in religious thought in the 19th and 20th centuries" and concludes:

The influence of the Theosophical Society has been significant, despite its small following. The movement has been a catalytic force in the 20th-century Asian revival of Buddhism and Hinduism and a pioneering agency in the promotion of greater Western acquaintance with Eastern thought. In the United States it has influenced a whole series of religious movements.

This encyclopedia is a good one-volume source for information about general religious topics and compares favorably with its chief competitors: The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (1995), The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1997), and The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions (originally Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, 1981).


January/February 2002

When Oracles Speak: Understanding the Signs and Symbols All around Us. By Dianne Skafte. Wheaton. IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2000. Paperback, viii + 279 pages.

We tend to believe what we believe. But when we suspend belief and disbelief and become open-minded, then we may hear when oracles speak. Dianne Skafte invites us, in her beautifully written book When Oracles Speak, to rediscover some of the myriad gifts of open-mindedness, some ancient and archetypal, others intimate, affirming, guiding, and inspiring. Being open-minded, we are openhearted. Being openhearted we become more vulnerable, yet also more empathic, caring, and therefore wise.

When our hearts and minds are open to the world, we become present in our being to all beings. This is when we can hear the oracles. As Skafte writes, "Oracles are more awesome than everyday events but far less awesome than mystical raptures. Perhaps they form a contact point between heaven and earth."

She goes on to show how we can make this connection between heaven and earth through the oracles, for our own good and for the good of all. But if the good of others does not eventually become foremost in our lives, we will mistake the voice of the oracles for our own.

This is a providential book in these chaotic and troubling times, giving comfort and security to many and guidance toward spiritual affirmation and rediscovery of the gifts of life that are transformative of us as individuals and as a species.

For over 90 percent of human existence, we were gatherer-hunters, intimately connected with the powers of the phenomenal, natural world. This included the kingdoms of mineral, plant, and animal, as well as other kingdoms that shaped our psyches as we evolved. We are all disoriented in an increasingly dysfunctional society that severing our sacred connections with these Powers, and destroying the natural world-our ground of being and becoming.

This book is an antidote to the extinction of much of what has made us human and what it means to be human. To Western rational materialists, this book will be incomprehensible nonsense rather than a well-researched psycho-historical cross-cultural treatise on the subject of oracular communication, divination, and communion.

A book like this, that advances our development and evolution by facilitating our "understanding the signs and symbols all around us," is one antidote that I would prescribe for all.


January/February 2002

Visitations from the Afterlife: True Stories of Love and Healing. By Lee Lawson. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Hardback, xviii + 233 pages.

Lee Lawson is a West Coast artist, some of whose paintings are used on the dust jacket and to preface the book's 82 anecdotes. Those anecdotes are from the hundreds friends have shared with her, as well as five of her own experiences, about visits from deceased loved ones. She says, "People from all over the world, of every age and of every walk of life, have contributed to the following stories of visitations from the afterlife" (17). The stories are classified under 14 different headings such as "Stories of Love and Healing," "Saying Good-bye for Now," and "Making Peace: Forgiveness and Reconciliation."

The final chapter has stories of symbolic, but highly unusual and personally significant, visitations. Some might be explained in terms of the Jungian concept of synchronicity, but some seem to suggest that a dead animal somehow managed to influence another animal of a very different species to convey a feeling of continuity and love to its owner.

Although many of the stories do not accord with Theosophical theories about survival, found for example in The Mahatma Letters or the writings of H. B Blavatsky, C. W. Leadbeater, and Annie Besant, there is a tone of sincerity about them that calls upon the reader to think more deeply about the adequacy of theories. It is obvious that the author has reworded some of the stories that people have told her, since her style is evident in their retelling, but many of the stories have quite different styles and undoubtedly were written by the people to whom they are credited. In any event, they are all worth reading.

The author summarizes the point of the stories as follows: "The greater message of every visitation is that life continues after the death of the body and that we will be together again. You can trust that separation is temporary.... A visitation from the afterlife tells us all that, for those who live, good-bye means good-bye for now, until we meet again" (46). Curiously, however, she repeatedly talks about "inconsolable feelings of loss" (xv) and "a tear in the very fabric of your being [when a friend or loved animal dies], a wound that, I believe, never fully heals" (23). This is certainly at odds with the experiences of most of the narrators of her stories, as well as those of Phoebe Bendit (in This World and That), myself, and others who have experienced such visitations. It is also at odds with her advice about letting go of departed loved one. (46).

The introduction to the book is by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a Jungian psychologist and author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, who mentions J. B. Rhine, John Lilly, Raymond Moody, and "the Theosophists," bur doesn't seem personally familiar with the literature of those sources herself. Despite these few flaws, I found the book very interesting and reassuring. As the author writes, "A visitation gives me the knowledge that even though I understand little about why and how life goes on, it does go on for all of us. Existence is a safe place for me and the people I love. I cannot lose my life, and I cannot lose other souls who are dear to me. Our survival is assured" (221).


January/February 2002

Budo Secrets: Teachings of the Martial Arts Masters. Ed. John Stevens. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2001. Hardback, xii + 109 pages.

Budo Secrets is not a picture gallery of bearded septuagenarians gracefully launching their opponents airborne from one side of the dojo to the other, nor is it a recipe book of 101 ways to slice and dice your opponent before he can say "ginsu knife." John Stevens, who lives and teaches in Japan, has compiled an eclectic assortment of texts on the martial arts- including philosophies, principles, and instructive stories meant not only for the practitioner of the arts but for the layman with an interest in the Martial Way, called Budo.

Stevens has culled this admirable collection from a diversity of training manuals, transmission scrolls, and modern texts, many of which are available only in the original Japanese. Stevens keeps his own commentary sparse and economical, preferring to let the precepts and teachings speak for themselves. His Spartan use of commentary, however, is enhanced by the inclusion of elegant brush calligraphy attributed to the hands of various martial arts masters.

Just as learning the technique of playing the piano or the violin does not in itself elevate a musician to the level of the artist, so too, the mastery of wrist locks, arm throws, and flying side kicks does not make a warrior. One can be a technician without understanding the meaning of the Martial Way. There is an ethos that must be learned and lived. Being a warrior has nothing to do with belligerence, intimidation, and vulgar displays of self-promotion. It has everything to do with self-control, respect, and intelligent use of force. This is made clear by the number of injunctions and precepts listed here, which form a universal warrior ethos, regardless of whether one's discipline is judo, karate, aikido, or jujitsu.

Legendary figures quoted include Kyuzo Mifune, a modern-era judo master who could easily defeat opponents twice his size, although he was only 5 feet-4-inches tall and weighed less than 140 pounds. One of Mifune's tenets “the soft controls the hard") has a distinct Taoist flavor. His favorite teaching principle was that of the sphere: a sphere never loses its center and moves swiftly without strain. Another luminary is the famed sixteenth-century swordsman, Miyamoto Mushashi, whose austere code of conduct shows striking similarities with Buddhist thought. Mushashi's life was brilliantly depicted by the incomparable Toshiro Mifune in Hiroshi Inagaki's 1955 cinematic classic, Samurai Trilogy.

In an age of culture wars that has seen the erosion of traditional male role models to the point where even feminists such as Pulizer-Prize-winner Susan Faludi (Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man) become alarmed, there is much to be said for the study of the mental and moral disciplines of the martial arts tradition. Both men and women can, of course, excel in any of these disciplines, but the tradition is based on qualities generally considered masculine in nature, such as strength, courage, restraint, and perseverance. According to Budo, the warrior is not one who is ready to throw a knockout punch at" the drop of an insult, nor is he the weepy-eyed effusive type who sobs at the slightest hint of pain or suffering. Those who faithfully follow the ways of Budo will find that, at the highest level, martial arts and spirituality converge. But that culmination is based on years of hard physical work, tolerance of or indifference to pain, and practice, practice, practice.

So what is the secret of Budo? In the words of twentieth-century karate master Kanken Toyama, "Secret techniques begin with basic techniques; basic techniques end as secret techniques. There are no secrets at the beginning, but there are secrets at the end."


January/February 2002

A New Religious America: How a "Christian Country" Has Now Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation. By Diana L. Eck. New York: HarperCollins, HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Hardback, xli + 404 pages.

As Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and Director of the well-known Pluralism Project at Harvard University, Diana Eck dispensed students into countless communities scattered across the United States, where they studied our proliferating religious pluralism. These youthful researchers and their professor discovered that the United States harbors more American Muslims than American Episcopalians, Jews, or Presbyterians and that at present Los Angeles has more than three hundred Buddhist temples and the world's most varied Buddhist communities.

Eck presents this extensive diversity as a present-day Main Street phenomenon, although many Americans are unaware of this profound change. Eck depicts this submerged or concealed culture by describing Muslims worshipping in a former mattress showroom in Northridge, California, and Hindus gathering in a warehouse in Queens, New York. She identifies the growing religious diversity in America as a great challenge in the twenty-first century. Eck's study probes religious diversity in the United Stares by showing both the tragedies that develop through ignorance and misunderstanding and the hope for cultivating new spiritual communities.


January/February 2002

The Odyssey of a New Religion: The Holy Order of MANS from New Age to Orthodoxy. By Phillip Charles Lucas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Hardback, viii + 312 pages.

Every now and then a worthwhile book comes out but never gets the recognition it deserves. The Odyssey of a New Religion is one such book. This is a book that many Theosophists should read because of its Theosophical overtones.

Why did the Holy Order of MANS (HOOM) exist for only about 22 years, whereas the Theosophical Society is still in existence more than 125 years after its founding? Both the Theosophical Society and HOOM had similar beginnings. Yet the small esoteric Christian community continued only by changing its mission and joining the larger Orthodox Christian community. Lucas's book tells the story of HOOM with skill, scholarship, and such grace that his sociological insights never get in the way of the unfolding story.

The Holy Order of MANS was founded by Earl Blighton (known as Father Paul) in 1968 in the San Francisco Bay area. The core group actually started two years earlier when Blighton taught a type of "esoteric Christianity." His message borrowed heavily from many alternative religions, but, as Lucas continually reminds us, it was primarily Rosicrucian and Theosophical in nature. Any Theosophist reading this book will recognize much of the Order's structure and teaching.

The group had a monastic image and its members wore clerical garb. Much of their early mission was service, charity, and missionary work, "for example, for homeless families and single mothers in shelters called 'Raphael House.'" The members, dressed in their clerical garb, would walk around crime-filled neighborhoods and visualize a ray of healing light. Blighton, judging from antidotal evidence, was a gifted psychic, like H. P. Blavatsky in the formative years of the Theosophical Society. Blighton wrote a "Tree of Life" series around which the "ancient Christian mysteries" were studied. About half of Lucas’s book explains the details of this early history.

Following Earl Blighton's death in 1974, the group's history became turbulent. After the usual power struggles that occur with the death of a charismatic leader, Andrew Rossi rook over and about 1978 began to lead the group from its Rosicrucian-Theosophical roots toward a more mainstream Christian identity. From a peak of about 3000 members in 1977, the membership began dropping. In 1988 Rossi led a mass conversion of 750 HOOM members into the Eastern Orthodox Church and changed the group's name to Christ the Savior Brotherhood.

In response to the question of why the Theosophical Society has lasted more than 125 years whereas HOOM had a 22-year existence, one of the relevant factors may be that the Society elects its officers on a regular schedule. The believers in the Holy Order of MANS did not have that option. One recalls Winston Churchill's observation that "democracy is the worst form of government' except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."


January/February 2002

Circling the Sacred Mountain: A Spiritual Adventure through the Himalayas. By Robert Thurman and Tad Wise. New York: Bantam, 2000. Paperback, 353 pages.

This is a book of a genre that happens to be a favorite of mine, as I suspect it is for many readers of the Quest as well: a chronicle of travel combining the exploration of exotic realms on both physical and spiritual planes. In this case, the two authors, together with a handful of other companions, journey to remote western Tibet to perform the traditional Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhist pilgrimage-circumambulation of the sacred Mount Kailas, and in the process learn much about Buddhism and themselves. Robert Thurman, a practicing Vajrayana Buddhist and former monk, now a professor at Columbia University, is perhaps the best-known Western scholar of Tibetan Buddhism today. Tad Wise, a much younger former student of his, has practiced several trades including stonemasonry and writing: he has published one novel.

The two writers alternate in presenting the narrative; Wise provides the day-by-day account of the journey, and Thurman (under his Buddhist name Tenzin) offers virtually daily sermons on their exercises and experiences. In the process, the two are uninhibited in displaying themselves as they are. Wise comes across as a voluble, witty, irreverent, and sensual, but very likable, young man; only half-convinced of the Dharma, he nonetheless felt a strange compulsion to leave his life behind for a month to join his old pedagogue on this expedition. Thurman is a learned, sagacious, but occasionally overbearing guide to the mysteries. But the real star of the story is Mount Kailas- -the silent, towering, oddly-shaped, yet unimaginably numinous presence always kept to their right as the foreign party, together with countless devout Tibetans, circles the slow trail round her widespread base, stopping for traditional devotions at ancient shrines and temples. The journey is not entirely out of time, however; there arealso unpleasant encounters with Tibet's heavy-handed Chinese overlords.

Circling the Sacred Mountain is sometimes a bit verbose; introspective surveys of other persons' (the two writers') inward sins and salvations can eventually become tiresome. At those moments I would have preferred more cultural description of Tibet's temples, Buddhas, rites, priests, and pilgrims instead, or else a few cuts. But overall the book moves and is a good read, highly recommended to all who enjoy the more adventurous kind of spirituality.


January/February 2002

Riding Windhorses: A Journey into the Heart of Mongolian Shamanism. By Sarangerel. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 2000. Paperback, xiv + 210 pages.

Shamanism is among the oldest and most universal forms of religious expression. It is a tradition that was, and to a certain extent still is, found in both the Old and New Worlds. Its influence upon the so-called higher religions is also quite obvious when one knows what to look for. Sarangerel is a practicing shaman of Siberian descent who has studied with several Central Asian shamans and who presents to us in readable and interesting form a fine description of Mongolian belief and practice.

Unlike works by such scholars as Mircea Eliade and Michael Harner, she writes from a practitioner's perspective, often attesting to her own experiences. She also seeks to present, not shamanism in general, but the special forms of Mongolian shamanism. For her, this shamanism is not just an exotic tradition to be studied at arm's length, but a viable spiritual option today. While she is thoroughly conversant with modern scholarship about shamanism, she can also attest, for instance, to her own experiences of out-of-body travel. At the conclusion of each chapter, therefore, she provides rituals of visualization techniques for the reader to use. Moreover, she provides useful information about where to go in Mongolia to see shamanistic holy places. Useful web site addresses, a bibliography, and glossary of terms are also provided.

In a word, this is a very valuable and useful work that brings the reader much closer to the realities of shamanism than most other scholarly works. Whether a belief in the spirit world, which shamanism presupposes, is possible in today's post-modern world is a question only individual readers can answer for themselves. Clearly, however, the development of "windhorse," that is, psychic power, is something that will be attractive for many to contemplate. This work merits study by anyone interested in either the history of religions or the exploration of the possibilities of human spirituality.


January/February 2002

Emerson in His Sermons: A Man-Made Self. By Susan L. Roberson. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995. Hardcover, xii + 223 pages.

Emersonian Circles: Essays in Honor of Joel Myerson. Ed. Wesley T. Moll and Robert E. Burkholder. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997. Hardcover, xi + 284 pages.

The Spiritual Teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. By Richard G. Geldard. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne, 2001. Paperback, x + 196 pages.

Susan Roberson examines Emerson's career and intellectual development as a Unitarian preacher between 1826 and 1832, including Emerson's concept, of self-reliance, his introduction of a new hero suited for a new age, and his merging of his identity with this ideal.

Wesley Mort and Robert Burkholder present fourteen new essays on Emerson, his philosophy, and his colleagues, connecting Transcendentalism to persistent currents in American thought. Among the contributors, Robert D. Richardson, Jr., describes Emerson as an editor; Ronald A. Bosco probes Emerson's teaching of the "Somewhat Spheral and Infinite" existing in every person; and Albert J. von Frank analyzes Emerson's construction of the" Intimate Sphere." This academic anthology enriches our understanding of Emerson and his closest colleagues.

Published in 1993 as The Esoteric Emerson, the new edition of Richard Geldard's book describes the Concord sage as a poet and essayist who inspired a spiritual literature and inaugurated an enduring philosophical movement outside Unitarianism. Geldard describes Emerson as a New England Socrates. Previous generations, Emerson emphasized, "beheld God and nature face to face." His contemporaries seemed content to comprehend spirituality through historic writing bequeathed from earlier generations. However Emerson observed that poetry and philosophy issue from "an original relation to the universe" rather than from history, tradition, or "religion of revelation."


March/April 2002

The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction. By Rebecca Z. Shafir. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2000. Hardback, viii + 255 pages.

Drawing on its author's experience as a speech and language pathologist and a student of the martial arts and Zen meditation, The Zen of Listening is an illuminating workshop on the art of listening well. Rebecca Shafir writes that the foundation of good listening goes deeper than techniques such as maintaining eye contact and nodding often. To listen truly well, she says, we must" dismantle the barriers to communication rooted in our prejudices and self-absorption.

Shafir says we often judge who is worth listening to (and who isn't) by their status, age, physical appearance, sex, race, our past experiences with them, and how well what they say fits with our own beliefs. Furthermore, communication with those who get by our elaborate screening process is impeded by our personal agendas, the jangle of our often negative self-talk and poor concentration skills.

Shafir offers a number of ways to counter these barriers, such as meditation, pointedly opening our minds to people and ideas that don't fit into our belief systems, and attempting to "set aside your evaluative self" and simply" be a witness" to the ideas of others.

Creating a memorable analogy, Shafir invites readers to listen to others "with the same self-abandonment as we do at the movies." "You go to the movies," she tells us, "to satisfy your curiosity, to be informed, to be entertained, to get another point of view, to experience something outside yourself." To listen in this way is to receive "the gift of another's vision of life."

Shafir offers many helpful suggestions for shaping our listening styles: being silent to encourage communication (whereas advice-giving usually shuts it down), listening under stress, and improving memory. She also gives readers a short but lucid introduction to Zen philosophy.

This is a practical book with tools for handling everyday transactions in work, school, and relationships. It is also a spiritual book, promising that: "any verbal encounter could contain a golden nugget of experience, information, or insight," and thus a portal to spiritual growth.


March/April 2002

Ethics for the New Millennium. By the Dalai Lama. New York: Riverhead Books, 2001. Paperback, xiv + 237 pages.

On July 21,1981, the fourteenth Dalai Lama came to Olcott, headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America, in Wheaton, Illinois. This was a very large and significant event for the Society. The audience was approximately four hundred people, and we began with the mayor of Wheaton presenting to the Dalai Lama an honorary Citizenship to the city. Considering the very large fundamentalist Christian community in Wheaton at the time, this was indeed a momentous event. I was in the crowd that day, and I still remember this humble man walking through the many trees of Olcott to the small outdoor stage, with the people standing and paying silent respect.

At: that time, the Dalai Lama was not as well known in the United States as he is now, and his travels were not nearly as extensive. He is still a humble and simple man, but in 1989 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Since that time the whole world has heard his profound message that the cultivation of compassion is the path to world peace.

In 1981, few books by the Dalai Lama were readily available, and those that were seemed written for a college-level introductory course on Tibetan Buddhism. Most of what I had read were scripts from his talks. Before I went to Olcott for his talk, I had read as many of his articles as I could find. His title that day was "The Buddha Nature," but I quickly noticed that what he said sounded very much like what I had read in the articles. In other words, the message was simple: compassion, happiness (inner peace), and world peace are what we should be thinking about.

In this book, Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama continues that: same theme. He gives us a moral system based, not on religious principles, but on universal principles irrespective of religious belief. It is written more as if he and I were having a serious talk over lunch, and he is giving me all of these important points. If I were taking notes, they might look like the following:

"Unfortunately, many have unrealistic expectations, supposing that I have healing powers or that I can give some sort of blessing. But I am only an ordinary human being. The best I can do is try to help them by sharing in their suffering."

"Despite the fact that millions live in close proximity to one another, it seems that many people, especially among the old, have no one to talk to but their pets."

"In replacing religion as the final source of knowledge in popular estimation, science begins to look a bit like another religion itself."

And then we have some real eye-openers: "My own experience of life as a refugee has helped me realize that the endless protocol, which was such an important part of my life in Tibet, was quite unnecessary."

Toward the end of the book, the Dalai Lama concludes, "I cannot, therefore, say that Buddhism is best for everyone," because from the perspective of human society at large, we must accept the concept of "many truths, many religions." Then he says, "In my own case, for example, my meetings with the late Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk of the Cistercian order, were deeply inspiring."

The Dalai Lama now has a large number of books in print. He says very little in this book that is new or original. But what he says still sounds fresh and worth rereading.


March/April 2002

Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion. By Wade Clark Roof. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. Paperback. x + 367 pages.

What is really going on in American religion? Indicators today seem to be pointing in all directions at once as one tries to assess the spiritual environment with which Theosophy, and each of us as an individual, must live and work. Look at it one way, and (as certain alarmists insist) rampant secularism is taking over. Look at it another way, and religion- -conservative religion at that--appears to be gaining almost unprecedented political and social power. All that is sure is that American religion is getting more pluralistic all the time, and styles of religious life are changing nearly everywhere.

Now here comes an authoritative guidebook to this incredibly complex picture by one of the nation's most eminent sociologists of religion. Wade Clark Roof first divides the current religious world into four segments: Born-again Christians, Mainstream Believers, Metaphysical Believers and Seekers (a sector Theosophy is given due credit for helping construct), and Dogmatists and Secularists. The last, dogmatism and secularism, are interestingly put together as representing a comparable kind of mentality, though at opposites ends of the continuum. But most religionists today, deep down, do not have whatever it takes either to believe completely or doubt fully, and that's why the scene is so fluid and at the same time so vigorous.

For what is overall most- characteristic of American religion today, according to Roof is not the variety it has long possessed so much as the flexible spirit, the sense of being on a never-ending quest, that seems to shape all but its most extreme ends. Whatever faith one has landed in is likely to be viewed only as the vessel within which one is continuing the journey for now, and its charter always open to revision. Even traditionally rigid churches may be held in a light, searching, and open kind of way that is comfortable with doubt or unconventionality in some areas. In such a situation, boundaries are inevitably fluid; more and more people are not in the religion in which they were raised, and may hold unexpected beliefs. Remarkably, in Roof's poll-data no less that 27 percent of those who said they were Born-again Christians also believed in reincarnation.

Indeed, combining faith with doubt and ongoing search was a common response in place of the old hard attitude toward religion, "Take it [belief] or leave it: [religion]," there was a third option, put memorably by Jack Miles in a passage quoted by Roof: "If I may doubt the practice of medicine from the operating table, if I may doubt the political system from the voting booth, if I may doubt the institution of marriage from the conjugal bed, why may I not doubt religion from the pew?"

Is this just the yuppie "I want to have it all" mentality, or something radically new and different" emerging from the spiritual marketplace? Only time will tell. But Theosophists, who also like to see their worldview as a third option alongside dogmatic science and religion, should pay close attention to what is going on over there behind the scenes as well as in the foreground, so they can speak effectively to those born-again believers, seekers, and doubters. Spiritual Marketplace is a serious work of sociology and not light reading, but it is very well written and unfailingly interesting and illuminating. In a scene so fluid, it can hardly be called the last word, bur readers will not: lay it down without a much richer sense of the religious world in which we live, a world that, as Roof makes clear, is seldom what it seems.


March/April 2002

Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious: The Conflict between Reason and Imagination. By June Singer. York Beach, MN: Nicholas-Hays, 2000. Paperback, xx + 272 pages.

William Blake, poet, printer, and mystic, prophet, experienced his first vision about the age of eight. Thereafter, he balanced his connection to the practical outer world with the inner world of his visions. Like many of our contemporaries, he believed and experienced-that the boundless infinite is accessed by intuition and imagination, rather than by intellect or senses.

In this new and retitled edition of her earlier work, The Unholy Bible, June Singer studies Blake from the perspective of depth psychology. With clarity and detail, she leads us through Blake's later prophetic works, especially The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which consists of twenty-four plates of text and illustrations engraved by Blake. In this study of good and evil, he asserts that the codes of convention and morality taught by the law and the churches are repressively deadening. Only the exercise of the psyche's unique desires and perceptions provides experiences that are enlivening and spiritually transforming.

Singer compares Blake's understanding of individual freedom and creativity with similar Jungian theories. For example, both affirm the union of opposites. All dualities, such as heaven and hell, male and female, reason and imagination, soul and body, must be conjoined. According to Blake, without the contraries there is no progression. Both speak of this process of reconciliation in symbolic language. For Blake it is the marriage, and for Jung the conjunction, which joins the conscious and the unconscious. Combining the characteristics of the opposing dualities begets wholeness and integrity.

Blake was willing to look honestly at the beauties and the terrors of the unconscious. As Singer tells us, "Heaven only becomes available to the man who has dared to venture into hell." Blake's visions were not spontaneous, but' the result of intense concentration on a single object or idea, until the unconscious stimulated his ego and "something would appear out of the nothingness." The device Blake used to communicate the realties of the unconscious was the copper plate on which he engraved them, "the symbol of the threshold between his consciousness and the mystery." Moreover, his ego involvement in this creative process, Singer believes, kept him from going mad. For "by writing down what he heard and drawing pictures of what he saw ... the visions then became manageable creations of his own mind."

June Singer's insightful meditation on the symbolic words and images contained on those plates is an invaluable guide to all Blake readers.


March/April 2002

The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen. By Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. Ed. John Shane. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2000. Paperback, 215 pages.

The author, born in Tibet in 1938, was recognized at the age of two as the reincarnation of a spiritual leader of the Nyingmapa school. Forced to leave Tibet because of the Chinese invasion, he became a professor at the Oriental Institute in Naples, Italy.

The Crystal and the Way of Light contains autobiography, theory, and practice- -all centered on Dzogchen, which can be translated as "Great Perfection," which is our natural state prior to all conditioning. The author writes: "To enter this state is to experience oneself as one is, as the center of the universe though not in the ordinary ego sense. The ordinary ego-centered consciousness is precisely the limited cage of dualistic vision that closes off the experience of one's own true nature."

Requiring commitment, discipline, understanding, and practice, Dzogchen is said to lead to enlightenment in a single lifetime. The author notes that "nothing need be renounced, purified, or transformed" and quotes a Tibetan master, "It's not the circumstances which arise as one's karmic vision that conditions a person into the dualistic state; it's a person's own attachment that enables what arises to condition him." Whatever arises in a practitioner's experience is simply allowed to arise just as it is, without any judgment concerning good or bad, beautiful or ugly, desirable or undesirable. The aim is to be comfortably harmonious with whatever is, as it is. This practice is based on the realization that our ordinary and deeply conditioned likes and dislikes are precisely what keep us imprisoned within the boundaries of our egos.

Dzogchen is a structured program of personal transformation. Practice centers on working with three categories: Base, Path, and Fruit. "Base" is the fundamental ground of existence at both the cosmic and individual levels, the nondual primordial nature. "Path" consists of views and practices designed to lead out of dualistic entrapment and suffering. And "Fruit" is the fully realized state as it is in itself (Dharmakaya), as it operates energetically (Sambhogakaya), and as it manifests in form (Nirmanakaya).

The author distinguishes between Dzogchen exposition and instruction; the former is what books do; the latter requires the direct teaching of a master. Instruction entails actual transmission of the primordial state from the master to the student. The student's task is then to engage in practices that enable direct access to that state---and eventually to abide uninterruptedly in the primordial state, even while living an ordinary life.


March/April 2002

The Atlantis Blueprint: Unlocking the Ancient Mysteries of a Long-Lost Civilization. By Colin Wilson and Rand Flem-Ath. New York: Random House, Delacorte Press, 2001. Hardback, xxvi + 415 pages.

How well does the content of this book reflect its title and subtitle?

Not well. Imagine a book advertised as describing restaurants within your city. The book actually dwells heavily on the restaurants of one ethnic group, ignores most others, describes only one meal out of each menu, includes a small number of restaurants long since dosed down, and sneaks in a restaurant from another city. Not a useful book for most diners. Something similar can be said about this book, which is generally a retelling of mysteries already examined at greater length in other books.

A thread running throughout this book is spelled out in the preface (xxiv) by Flem-Ath:

Today we assume that sacred sites such as the Egyptian, Chinese and South American pyramids were built by local people (or local reasons, but The Atlantis Blueprint will reveal that there is a single global pattern that ties these monuments together. This in turn implies the existence of an advanced civilization that existed before the flood and managed to communicate important geodesic, geological and geometric information to people who became ancient mariners and recharted the globe.

The two authors have each independently written several books. The collaboration of these two experienced and skilled authors does not save this book from flaws, however. It is a work that satisfies one of the definitions of fiction: that it contains just enough facts to be believable.

One of the book's flaws is that it presents the stone spheres of Central America as a mystery, indicative of a previous civilization that worshiped the form of a sphere, making hundreds of them, some quite large, scattering them at random over the landscape, and then most inconveniently disappearing, leaving no trace of their tools, their intents, or their culture. This "mystery," however, was solved long ago by the National Geographic Society, when it commissioned a forensic geologist" to explore the situation. After his visit, he described quite clearly the geologic processes that created the stone spheres totally without the help of human hands or civilization: "Solving the Mystery of Mexico's Great Stone Spheres," National Geographic (August 1969), pp. 295-300.

Another flaw is the concept that the megalithic monuments of western Europe were all made more than 20,000 years ago and are due to the precocious abilities of the Atlanteans. The fact is that some of the megalithic monuments have been dated, using the carbon-14 method on bits of plant matter found beneath or within the constructions. The evidence so far indicates that the megalithic walls, tombs, temples, and pyramids were all constructed during the time period of 4000 to 2000 years ago and, furthermore, that the earliest ones are found in Great Britain and Brittany, on the coast of France facing Great Britain. If the megalithic construction is to be attributed to Atlantis, then it would appear that Atlantis was in the English Channel, 4000 years ago.

The treatment of the magnetic poles and their frequent shifts in recent ages fails to make a clear distinction between the magnetic poles and the physical poles of the earth. A movement of the physical poles would prove a disaster to much of earth's life, whereas a similar movement of the magnetic poles is invisible to all but a few animals, and is never harmful to any. The discussion for the evidence of pole shift shifts back and forth between the magnetic and the physical poles without dearly differentiating between them.

Charles Hapgood's discussion of ancient maps and his contention that they indicate an early and advanced culture are well represented in this book. But no attention is given to several telling criticisms of Hapgood's thesis. A clear discussion of those criticisms would do much to establish the credibility of this book and possibly to support Hapgood's arguments.

Much space is given to a contrived geography by which the ancients are said to have determined where they would place their holy sites. With no clear reason given for why the ancients should find it desirable to place their holy sites at these locations and not others, the reasoning is less than compelling. A remarkably long list has been compiled of the ancient holy places that meet the criteria. However, there is an equally large number of holy places that are not on the list. A reader may wonder why the authors cite the ones that fit and ignore the ones that don't. Of some interest to Theosophists, however, is that one of the holy places is Ojai, California (342): “Although there are no megalithic structures here, Ojai joins a select number of sites around the world that are linked by Golden Section divisions of the earth's dimensions."

An entire chapter is a retelling of the story of the Templars. This interesting story, fairly well though too briefly told here, has its own unsolved mystery. The authors provide a novel solution, which will he appreciated by fans of the Templar story. But this chapter has nothing to do with the rest of the book. Furthermore, the story of the Templars is told better and more completely elsewhere.

Readers who have read widely in the field of crypto-archaeology will appreciate the stories of introductions, chance meetings, and serendipitous discoveries. In this sense the book is an entertaining travelogue and autobiography. This book by two experienced and skilled authors is entertaining but not up to the authors' normally high standard of work.


March/April 2002

Wandering Joy: Meister Eckhart's Mystical Philosophy. Trans. Reiner Schurmann. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2001. Paperback, xxi + 264 pages.

No history of mysticism or compilation of the writings of the great mystics through the ages would be complete without reference to that brilliant and original teacher, the Dominican friar and mystical theologian, Meister Eckhart. Born Johannes Eckhart in 1260, he acquired the title "Meister" after receiving his master's degree in theology from the University of Paris in 1302. As Richard Tarnas points out in The Passion of the Western Mind, the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries in Europe witnessed an extraordinary wave of mystical fervor. Eckhart was not only part of that wave but was central to it-often called the "founder" of the Rhineland mystics. It was Eckhart who gave to the mysticism of the period an intellectual subtlety based on the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions, as well as the philosophical views of Thomas Aquinas and Aquinas's teacher Albertus Magnus, who may well have also been Eckhart's teacher when he studied at Cologne on his entrance into the Dominican order.

Beyond the numerous philosophical views current during the tare Middle Ages, which inevitably had their influence on the thought of Eckhart, his formulations were original. And it is to this originality in formulating the mystical experience by translating "an ineffable experience ... into daily language so as to become communicable," that- the present book directs our attention. Reiner Schurmann, who was Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City prior to his death in 1993, uses Eckhart's German sermons to illustrate both his originality of thought and "the creative genius of his language." Schurmann, who was also convinced of the contemporaneity of Eckhart's speculative mysticism, points up the ways in which Eckhart adapted or interpreted Augustinian, Thomistic, Albertian, and Neoplatonic doctrines, and in fact the entire doctrinal lineage to which he was heir (including the views of the Church Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, and Origen), stretching back to pre-Christian Stoicism.

This is not an easy book to read, but for anyone who would understand Eckhart's thought, his mystical philosophy, his unique formulation of the mystic via negative, there could be no better text than Schurmann's. As David Appelbaum stares in the foreword to the book, Schurmann introduces us “to Eckhart's single-pointed concern with the mystery of birth," that is, "theogenesis, the birth of God ... in a human being." Appelbaum then adds, "There is much perception in the scheme Schurmann provides as a first course in Eckhart's teaching. The birthing process ... is not described as an ascent by degrees ... But it has three distinct phases: detachment, releasement, and (to use Shurmann’s slightly archaic term) dehiscence…the bursting forth…of the fruit” Because the process is a rigorous one as well as one without end, he adds:

Releasement only approaches, but does not enter, that virginal terrain of the Godhead. It wanders outside the wilderness, growing in relation with each step. We in our winding itinerary experience an aimless joy, a joy that uplifts us in our worldly ways. At this high pitch of Eckhart's leaching, the searing intensity of wakefulness carries its own feeling. Schurmann entitled the original French edition of 1972 Maitre Eckhart ou la joie errante. The joy of divine birth is a wandering joy. [xiv]

To achieve his purpose of opening up Eckhart's mystical philosophy for contemporary readers, Schurmann has concentrated on Eckhart's German sermons, which he addressed to the nuns and laity of the Rhineland in his native tongue and in which, as Schurmann says, "he was more original and more personal ... without the confining apparatus of late scholasticism," which we find in his Latin works "written for academic purposes." As Schurmann point's out, however, "Meister Eckhart teaches basically the same thing in both languages. The Latin work constitutes the doctrinal basis for the understanding of his thought. ... The Latin works mark the road, but the German works invite us on the journey." Wandering Joy consists, then, of Schurmann's own translations (from Middle High German) of eight of Eckhart's German sermons, three of the eight being followed by a careful analysis of the argument and then by a useful but solidly packed commentary on the main themes in the sermons.

Schurmann also points up how perilously close Eckhart came to heresy in many of his affirmative statements concerning God, the Godhead (or the God beyond God), the birth of God within the "soul" or "mind," and so on. It was, of course, because of many of these arguments that finally, in 1326, Eckhart was accused by the Archbishop of Cologne of spreading dangerous doctrines among the common people. Hailed before three inquisitors, two of whom were Franciscans (as was the archbishop), Eckhart declared he was not a heretic though he conceded that many of his teachings had been distorted or misunderstood. Censured at the Cologne trial, Eckhart appealed to the Pope, and a second trial was convened at Avignon. Schurmann deals in comprehensive endnotes with several of the "propositions" that had been declared "heretical." He also points out that a papal bull issued by Pope John XXII a year after Eckhart's death declared seventeen of the twenty-eight articles heretical and the remainder "dangerous and suspect of heresy."

Two of Schurmann's translations of the Middle High German words are particularly felicitous, as coming closer to Eckhart's thought than the customary renderings. First is the term sele, interpreted by many writers as "soul," but by Schurmann as "mind." Schurmann defends this by pointing out that "Eckhart's vocabulary in this case is Augustinian. Sele mostly stands for Augustine's mens or animus, both of which are usually translated as 'mind'." Later, in commenting on one of the sermons, Schurmann refers to the Greek term, nous, probably as also meaning sele. The other term is even more revealing of Eckhart's essential thought. Schurmann suggests that the Middle High German word gelazenheit (modern German Gelassenheit) is the "authentic core of Meister Eckhart's thinking." As he says early in the text, this "key term" has been translated as "serenity," "letting go," or "abandonment," but he believes the translation "releasement" is more appropriate. In one of the best of Schurmann's exegeses of Eckhart's sermons, he emphasizes the relevance of releasement and what he calls the four "intensities of releasement" (dissimilarity, similarity, identity, and "dehiscence") as road markers on the way to that place "where absolute stillness, utter silence and unity reign," to union with "the unknown one." Schurmann says:

Eckhart announces a simple message; his doctrine has nothing esoteric or extraordinary about it. It concerns what is most ordinary in an existence. It deals with experiences that the majority of men have. It responds to elementary questions in the apprenticeship of life: What about my original liberty, and how can it be regained? How can I come back to myself? Where can 1find joy that does not tarnish? [81] The single thought around which [Eckhart's] message is articulated is expressed in verbs that speak of deliverance: "to rid oneself of something," "to become free," "to be a virgin," "to let be." These words indicate a road. [81]

And that road, says Schurmann, is "detachment" or "renunciation":

Detachment not only reveals man's condition and the condition of the ground, but also God's own condition. God is not; God is nothing as long as man lacks the breakthrough to the Godhead. If you do not consent to detachment, God will miss his Godhead, and man will miss himself. [80]

Nevertheless, the crux of the matter according to Schurmann is that "detachment turns progressively into releasement. The lower intensities of releasement require an effort of the will; the higher intensities...exclude every voluntary determination… The intensities of releasement result from the actualization of the center, or ground, in man" (82). Schurmann has prepared us for this development by his statement in the introduction (xx): &quo