Book Reviews 2015

A Most Unusual Life: Dora Van Gelder Kunz: Clairvoyant, Theosophist, Healer
KIRSTEN VAN GELDER and FRANK CHESLEY
Wheaton: Quest, 2015. 352 pp., paper, $24.95.

This lively biography of Dora van Gelder, clairvoyant, healer, and late president of the Theosophical Society in America, arose from an unusual collaboration. Its core is drawn from taped interviews of Dora by journalist Frank Chesley. Unfortunately, Chesley died before he could finish the manuscript. Kirsten Van Gelder, wife of Dora’s nephew, continued interviewing. She also drew on papers of Dora’s husband Fritz Kunz and on interviews with her coworkers to complete this work.

Dora Van Gelder was born in 1904, in Java, then in the Dutch East Indies, to a family of sugar planters. Even in her childhood she had natural clairvoyant abilities and was able to see nature spirits in the garden and woods around the house. These abilities were taken seriously at home, as her grandmother and mother had similar ones. And because the belief in nature spirits is widespread in Java — an island with a mixture of Chinese, Hindu, and Muslim cultures — people working on the plantation did not find the ability strange either. Her mother taught her meditation techniques at an early age and encouraged daily meditation practice.

Dora’s parents were leaders in the Theosophical Society and were in active contact with Theosophists living in Asia, especially India, and Australia. With the outbreak of the First World War, C.W. Leadbeater, a close coworker with Annie Besant at the Adyar headquarters of the TS, decided to stay in Australia, where he had been visiting, and open a small school to train boys both in academic studies and in spiritual abilities. Leadbeater was also a clairvoyant, and he was interested in having Dora among his eight students — the only girl. She went to Australia at the age of twelve and never lived extensively in Java again. In fact, her parents moved to Australia.

During the First World War and again during the 1930s, there were efforts to develop Theosophical communities based on common work, sharing of revenue, and common study. Dora’s parents were leaders of such a community, and Theosophists from different countries would spend time at the Manor, as the Australian community was called.

Thus she met Fritz Kunz, an American educator who had also been a student of Leadbeater’s and was working at Adyar. Despite a sixteen-year difference in age, young Dora married Fritz. He encouraged her to go with him to the U.S., where he became a popular speaker at Theosophical centers. For many years Dora devoted her life to helping him in his educational activities and raising their son, John.

In 1940, Fritz founded the journal Main Currents in Modern Thought, devoted to the concept of integrated education — a way in which science and spirituality could cooperate and share the results of their collaboration in schools and universities. Through Main Currents Dora met a good number of leading educators, but she did not speak often of her clairvoyant abilities, except to a small circle of friends.

With Fritz’s death in 1972, Main Currents ended publication and Dora could focus on her own interests. Her clairvoyant abilities had already been investigated by Shafica Karagulla, a British-trained professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York, for Karagulla’s book Breakthrough to Creativity (1967), but Dora’s name was only given as “DVK.”

Once Dora could act on her own, she and Karagulla teamed up to write The Chakras and the Human Energy Fields. Long before, Leadbeater had written books along these lines called The Chakras and Man Visible and Invisible, and Dora knew of his work from her years of training with him. Leadbeater had clairvoyant abilities, but he also had a strong imagination. He was not interested in a scientific approach, and a reader of his books cannot make a distinction between what he saw and what he imagined. Thus Dora had to start over in the study of subtle energies, but she would do so in the spirit of Main Currents rather than of “CWL,” as she called Leadbeater.

The analysis of the nature of the chakras and the alignment of their harmonious flow of energies led naturally to work with healing. With Dolores Krieger, a professor of nursing at New York University, Dora developed a technique of healing based on the universal energy as a way of to restoring order and wholeness within the patient. This marked the development of what is now known as Therapeutic Touch. Therapeutic Touch is increasingly taught to nurses and other health professionals and is widely used well beyond the TS membership.

From 1975 to 1987, Dora was president of the Theosophical Society in America and lived much of the time at its Wheaton headquarters. She had known many of the members of the second generation of the TS — Leadbeater, Annie Besant, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Krishnamurti — and so served as a kind of living memory of the organization and its activities. She published The Real World of Fairies based on her earlier clairvoyant observations. She also remained interested in the educational ideas exemplified by Main Currents. Still, her keenest interest was in the healing process. After leaving the presidency of the TS, she lived in Seattle, near her son and other relatives. She died in 1999 at age ninety-five.

René Wadlow

René Wadlow is president of the Association of World Citizens and a representative to the United Nations, Geneva, on its behalf. With a long interest in education in Africa and Asia, he collaborated with Fritz Kunz and his journal Main Currents in Modern Thought.

 

 

Sweet Synchronicity: Finding Annie Besant, Discovering Krishnamurti
Elizabeth Spring
N.p.: Archeon Press, 2015. 287 pp., paper, $18.86.

The early leaders of the Theosophical Society continue to inspire literature of all kinds. One of the latest additions is Elizabeth Spring’s Sweet Synchronicity. The title refers to a deep connection the author has felt to Annie Besant, partly because they were born exactly 100 years apart (Besant: October 1, 1847; Spring, October 1, 1947). This connection, in the author’s view, has been reinforced by many coincidences, or synchronicities, over the years.

The book interweaves a biography of Besant loosely interwoven with the author’s own personal experiences. Throughout it Spring emphasizes her link to Besant. She even suggests that she might be Besant’s reincarnation: “Could I have been her mother? Could I have been her? . . . I’m not sure there is a knowable answer to these questions; I think much is meant to remain a mystery.”

If Elizabeth Spring is indeed the reincarnation of Annie Besant, her memory has suffered severe damage in the passage between worlds, because the book is full of errors and distortions. It is far from clear how many of these were deliberate, even though Spring says at the outset, “although the basis of the story is true as told, there are some changes that modify the story to put it in a literary form. There are also disagreements over the nature of some of the people and events as noted in conflicting histories.”

In fact Sweet Synchronicity goes far past mere literary modifications. Sometimes the mistakes are small. While Spring makes much of an interview she had in 1988 with Rosalind Rajagopal, the longtime lover of J. Krishnamurti, she is unable even to decide on the spelling of her name: it appears repeatedly as both “Rosalind” and “Roselind.”

Other errors are both more substantial and more comical. One scene depicts a reunion between Besant and her long-estranged daughter Mabel, here described as a “young woman.” But the scene is set in 1929, and Mabel Besant was born in 1870, so she would have been fifty-nine on the supposed date of this reconciliation.

Probably the most amusing distortion appears in Spring’s account of Krishnamurti’s climactic renunciation of his role as the World Teacher, which also occurred in 1929. When he and Besant arrive at the event at which he is supposed to take on the mantle, they are “greeted immediately by Colonel Olcott.” But it would have been difficult for Henry Steel Olcott to attend this gathering, because at that point he had been dead for twenty-two years.

A more serious problem comes with Spring’s portrayal of the relations between C.W. Leadbeater and Krishnamurti. At one point Besant catches Leadbeater in an intimate moment with Krishnamurti. Outraged, she sends Leadbeater away.

In all probability nothing of this sort ever happened. It is reasonably certain that Leadbeater never approached Krishnamurti in this way: years later Krishnamurti himself denied that he had. Even in Gregory Tillett’s book The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater — which many Theosophists regard as hostile to its subject — the author concedes that Leadbeater “had no sexual relations with Krishnamurti.” In any event, Besant did not break with Leadbeater for this or any other reason. She was one of his staunchest defenders throughout later years.

Much of Sweet Synchronicity, particularly the second half, appears to be based on a screenplay by Spring that won a 1988 contest, complete with a $5000 prize. Her account of this event is peculiar. After winning, she is approached by a Hollywood producer who wants to option the script. But it turns out that this producer, with true Hollywood sensationalism, wants to include the story of Krishnamurti’s affair with Rosalind Rajagopal in the film. The indignant Spring refuses and tears up the check.

So on the one hand, we have Spring high-mindedly refusing to put into her screenplay something that did happen — the affair between Krishnmurti and Rosalind — but on the other hand creating a much more scurrilous scene between Leadbeater and Krishmamurti that did not happen. This is a strange sort of integrity.

In short, Sweet Synchronicity is a book that knowledgeable Theosophists are likely to find either hilarious or infuriating. While it does loosely replicate the events of Besant’s life, it does so with so many distortions that it cannot be called a biography in any meaningful sense. It could be most charitably described as an imaginative engagement with the life of Besant, although it is not an intelligent or responsible engagement.

Some are likely to see this book as an embarrassment to Theosophy. That may or may not be the case, but it certainly ought to be an embarrassment to the author.

Richard Smoley

 

Empress of Swindle: The Life of Ann Odelia Diss Debar
JOHN BENEDICT BUESCHER
Forest Grove, Oregon: Typhon Press, 2014. 346 pp., paper, $19.99.

Ann Odelia Diss Debar (1849-1911?), the subject of this highly readable new biography, is one of the most notorious figures of the late nineteenth century – and oddly, someone almost unknown today. Born of humble origins in Kentucky, she developed pretensions of grandeur while still a teenager, and by the time she reached adulthood was already representing herself as the abandoned daughter of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Lola Montez, a theatrical performer of the era.

What she really was — over the span of the next forty years — was an incorrigible con artist of the first order, given to impersonating at various times an European princess, a spiritualist medium, a Theosophical successor to H.P. Blavatsky, a swami, an ex-Catholic target of Jesuit perfidy, and a charitable reformer of fallen women (the last while apparently running brothels in Chicago).

She was married numerous times to men who were either accomplices in her endless schemes or wealthy “marks” – sometimes found dead under suspicious circumstances. By all accounts she seemingly had a strange charisma: the capacity to exhibit absolute conviction while brazenly lying, a crucial talent for someone who weighed in at 300 pounds and sported a succession of outlandish wardrobes.

Ann Odelia, as we’ll call her for short, practiced her trade in an era when it was still possible to jump from boarding house to boarding house without paying one’s bills and to blow town one step ahead of the arrival of police. However, with telegraphy firmly in place, and with the common practice of newspapers across the U.S. rapidly reprinting each other’s sensational reports of scandals and criminal escapades, she began to develop a national reputation that necessitated her constantly changing identities and locales.

John Benedict Buescher acknowledges that sources on Ann Odelia’s doings are largely confined to press reports of the era – an archive that he has thoroughly mined, witness fifty pages of newspaper and journal sources in the book’s bibliography. Given the tendency toward sensationalism in the press of that era, the reader should keep in mind that distortions can creep into any published report, but cumulatively the journalistic evidence is damning. Ann Odelia was a con artist preying upon sincere believers in spiritualism, Theosophy, Eastern philosophies, and self-improvement. But she would have had little success if her target audience hadn’t let its hunger for miracles and religious certainty sway its judgment. From her perspective, she merely gave them what they wanted, admittedly while emptying their bank accounts at the same time.

What Empress of Swindle makes clear, without dwelling upon the point, is that the modern history of esoteric interests has a much shadier back story than is usually acknowledged in official histories. Sincere seekers were repeatedly taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous mediums and “adepts” whose exploits were chronicled in the popular press, but rarely made it into historical summaries published by respectable esoteric organizations.

Hence Ann Odelia’s obscurity today. She was thoroughly enmeshed in overlapping spiritualist, Theosophist, and Eastern seeker circles, running scams and exploiting the trusting and gullible to such an extent that after she was repeatedly unmasked she was largely expunged from the esoteric record as an embarrassment to one and all. In light of this, Buescher’s biography serves as a refreshing tonic that provides some historical balance and, to its credit, is marvelously entertaining as well.

Two episodes that may be of special interest to readers of Quest involve Ann Odelia’s brushes with Theosophy and with the magical Order of the Golden Dawn.

Following the death of Mme. Blavatsky in 1891, Ann Odelia claimed to have attended HPB on her deathbed. According to Buescher, she “displayed a ring with a huge blue stone in it that she said Blavatsky had given her to signify the bequest of her spirit. Sometimes she told them [i.e. Theosophists] that she was so fat because she had ingested Madame Blavatsky’s astral body upon her death.”

Several years later, following other, more successful scams and a stint in prison, Ann Odelia became a partner with Henry B. Foulke in his efforts to assume leadership of the Aryan Branch of the TS following the death of William Q. Judge in 1896. Needless to say, they were not successful, though they did briefly receive support from Aryan Branch members opposed to Katherine Tingley’s assuming leadership.

A couple of years later, she rubbed shoulders in Paris with S.L. MacGregor Mathers, then head of the Golden Dawn. Over the course of several visits, she managed to convince him that she was in fact the legendary Anna Sprengel, the ostensible source of the original correspondence leading to the order’s founding. Shortly thereafter Mathers concluded that he had been hoodwinked, but not before she made off with a satchel containing manuscripts and documents describing the order’s rituals. Unsurprisingly, it was never returned. Subsequently, she was off to Cape Town, South Africa as “Madame Swami Viva Ananda.” She would later incorporate elements of the Golden Dawn rituals into further cults of her creation. In the end – perhaps fittingly – she simply disappeared from view. As much as we might like a neat resolution to her story, whatever transpired did so out of sight.

By the final page of Empress of Swindle, after reading of a never-ending stream of dozens of identities and ploys ranging over decades, I could only conclude that Ann Odelia Diss Debar was the Energizer Bunny of spiritual and occult scams. It is obvious that she has long deserved a full-length biography, and John Buescher has delivered one that I could hardly put down. Highly recommended.

Jay Kinney was founder and publisher of Gnosis magazine, published from 1985 to 1999. His article “Playing Those Mind Games: The Psychedelic Revolution Reconsidered” appeared in Quest, Winter 2015.

 

Jerusalem! The Real Life of William Blake
TOBIAS CHURTON
London: Watkins, 2015. 378 pp., hardcover, $23.30.

Many of us will be familiar with William Blake’s words:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

We might wonder: “What was the source of Blake’s inner vision?” The answer is to be found in this illuminating biography of the man born in London in 1757, who at fourteen would serve a seven year apprenticeship as an engraver, but who would turn out to be so much more than that.

Blake grew up in an era rife with revolution. The cry for liberty was heard not only in America’s thirteen states but in the streets of London as well. Young Blake found the clamor for freedom inspiring, but he experienced it on a deeper level than most, for he saw the worldly cry as one stemming from an inner call for spiritual revolution: a revolution of the heavens within man, a time of revelation. He would be its prophet.

Blake was not the era’s only prophet. Emanuel Swedenborg, dying in London around the time Blake began his apprenticeship, had written Heaven and Hell, influencing Blake in seeing “heaven” — the infinite spiritual, inner worlds — as being very close, interacting with man in the world, its “mansions” corresponding to all that we see and feel. On the other hand, philosophers like Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in Germany followed England’s John Locke in declaring Reason the messiah of man’s fortunes in the world, a perception against which Blake reacted vehemently. Blake caricatured Reason as Urizen: a false, blind, cold deity, ignorant of a higher principle.

Blake understood what his French contemporary Antoine Fabre d’Olivet (1767–1825) recognized as the limitations of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781). Fabre d’Olivet asserted that Kant had confused “rationality” with “reason.” Man’s ability to think is not the source of insight. The true “reason” is what the Greeks called nous, of which Plotinus said: “the higher reason [nous] is king.” As Churton states, “Spiritual truths transcend rationality: contrary to Kant’s philosophy, they can be known.”

Another French contemporary, the Illuminist Louis-Claude de St.-Martin (1743–1803), expressed the same message in more philosophical terms. In one of many original strokes, Churton boldly links Blake’s insights, illustrated in poetry, etchings, and paintings, to those of the Illuminists of France and Germany:

Like Blake, Illuminists responded to the Enlightenment’s elevation of Reason by recognizing that while reason constituted the inner eye of the mind, its function needed to be clarified, or illuminated, by the light beyond time and space, beyond the external senses.

Churton demonstrates how Blake used what was just becoming known of the second- and third-century Gnostics in formulating his own poetic spiritual system. Churton’s exposition of Blake’s interaction with the theosophies of Paracelsus and Jacob Boehme is outstanding.

It is not surprising that Churton is one of Britain’s leading scholars of Western esotericism, for he provides the key to understanding Blake’s esoteric genius, his art, and, most challenging of all, his prophetic visions. Consistently original, his approach regularly brings forth nuggets of insight; many illuminating asides seem almost like throwaways. Regarding Blake’s last completed commission, his engravings from the Book of Job, Churton notes: “It takes a certain kind of genius to rewrite the Bible without changing a word of it.”

Blake’s vision of the transcendental and limitless make the limited mind ask whether he was a visionary, a prophet, or simply mad. Churton makes it clear that Blake, though eccentric and provocative when he felt inclined, was not mad. Is it possible to suffer from a surfeit of sanity? Only, perhaps, among the less than sane.

Blake challenges us still, his influence extending from the Pre-Raphaelites to Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and W.B. Yeats, and on to Jim Morrison and poets, artists, and musicians such as John Zorn today.

Churton’s thorough comprehension of Blake’s experiences and his crystalline capacity to express that comprehension add up to an authoritative, definitive text. Return readings will bring greater pearls to the surface. Furthermore, the writing is not condescending or Olympian in tone, but warm, witty, and friendly. Where there is need of exposition, it is clear, indicating a disciplined and painstaking mind.

What more can you ask from a book? Here is mysticism, inspiration, creativity, art, poetry, truth, and philosophy, generously shared and beautifully presented and illustrated. It is to be treasured by all who have asked: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Renate zum Tobel

Renate zum Tobel has written three books of poetry and several children’s books. She is also the author of Physician of the Soul: Exploring the Mystical Meaning of the Life of Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

 

 

 

Sharing the Light: Further Writings of Geoffrey Hodson, Volume Three
Edited by John and Elizabeth Sell and Roselmo Z. Doval Santos
Quezon City, Philippines: Theosophical Publishing House, 2014, xvi + 490 pages, hardcover, $24.

Geoffrey Hodson (1886–1983) ranks among the Theosophical Society's most respected teachers and writers. In addition to having authored at least forty-six books and thirty-seven booklets, he wrote hundreds of articles and gave hundreds of talks throughout the world.

A modest and self-effacing individual, Hodson avoided the guru adoration syndrome that has befallen so many spiritual teachers over the years. It was not until after his passing that we learned that Hodson had received direct guidance and inspiration from adept and archangelic teachers throughout his adult life. Although he often referred to himself as simply a "student of Theosophy," Robert Ellwood, emeritus professor of religion at the University of Southern California, described him as "worthy of compare with the greatest seers and mystics of any land or time."

This book is the third collection of Hodson's lesser-known writings, gleaned primarily from pamphlets and booklets long out of print by John and Elizabeth Sell, prominent members of the New Zealand Section, and edited by them and Roselmo Z. Doval Santos, president of the Theosophical Society in the Philippines.

As in the previous two volumes, the material presented here is clearly written, and reflects Hodson's broad and eclectic range of personal and professional interests, with a strong practical emphasis on how to live a spiritual life of integrity, compassion, and right action. Subjects include esoteric Christianity, death, reincarnation, world peace, the importance of beauty, the way to the Masters, relationship, healing, diet, animal welfare, marriage, motherhood, and education.

This impressive collection contains a wealth of material suitable for both individual and group study. Individual titles include "The Clairvoyant Study of Fairies, Nature Spirits, and Devas," "The Spiritual Significance of Motherhood," "Angels and the New Race," "Principles Governing Happiness in Marriage," "The Path to the Masters of the Wisdom," "Health and the Spiritual Life," "The Humanitarian Cause," and "Does Justice Rule the World?"

Although some of the writings date back to over eighty years ago, many still resonate with the present day. Lamenting the pernicious effects of radio and cinema on young people, Hodson writes: "For today, success simply means becoming rich. 'Get! Get! Get!' becomes the motive for all effort. Trick, deceive, outwit, compete, becomes the mode, the means of success . . . They are sent out into life with a strong desire to advertise themselves, their education, their scholastic degrees, their highest gifts for money, power, possessions."

Writing towards the end of the Second World War, Hodson could be describing the present-day cults of narcissism and materialism, fueled by television, magazines, and social media.

Much in this volume reflects a similarly passionate tone. "Krishnamurti and the Search for Light" is a vigorous and detailed critique of Jiddu Krishnamurti, written seven years after his resignation from the Theosophical Society in 1929. Referring to Krishnamurti's teachings as "an extraordinary blend of rare flashes of transcendental wisdom, penetrating intelligence, incomprehensibility, prejudice, intolerance, and vituperation," Hodson's essay focuses on how Krishnamurti led many former members of the Theosophical Society into "darkness" and why his teachings should be rejected. Hodson writes, "The extraordinary confusion of thought which he is causing everywhere he goes might be productive of great harm."

In "The Problem of Sex Training and a Solution," Hodson offers wide-ranging advice on raising children to become well-grounded, ethical, and spiritual adults, emphasizing celibacy when teaching young people about sex: "There is only one absolutely sure protection against grievous effects, physical and moral, of sexual indulgence. That sole protection against disease of body and soul for youth is the bright shield of continence . . . This simple but dishonoured truth must be at the heart of all sex instruction, all hygienic education."

Some readers may feel uncomfortable reading such direct statements, many of which may challenge their accepted beliefs or behavior. We can choose to dismiss them as simply being part of another era or as examples of an extreme, absolutist, or puritanical point of view. Yet open-minded seekers of truth can choose to welcome such ideas and use them as a touchstone to examine their own character, beliefs, and conduct.

In addition to his writings, this volume includes a previously unpublished discussion between Hodson and John Sell, exploring such areas as elementals and discarnate entities, kundalini, and spiritual healing. Readers will also welcome two little-known articles by Hodson's wife Sandra: "Theosophy and Family Life" and "Failure: Gateway to Success." A former general secretary of the TS in New Zealand, Sandra Hodson was a respected Theosophical teacher and author in her own right. Often working quietly in the background, she helped edit many of her husband's writings and compiled his three posthumous books, Light of the Sanctuary: The Occult Diary of Geoffrey Hodson (1988), The Yogic Ascent to Spiritual Heights (1991), and Illuminations of the Mystery Tradition (1992).

Like the previous two volumes, this one contains photographs of Hodson that have been rarely seen before. It also includes a fascinating report by a scientist who observed some of Hodson's clairvoyant research in New Zealand during the 1950s.

Like the previous two volumes, Sharing the Light offers a wealth of original, eclectic, and practical teachings that will challenge, inform, and inspire. In addition to being an important addition to the library of every Theosophical lodge or study center, this book can form a valuable part of the library of individual students who wish to expand their insight, compassion, and understanding of life.

Nathaniel Altman

Nathaniel Altman has been a member of the Theosophical Society in America since 1970. He was a student of Geoffrey Hodson at the Krotona School of Theosophy in 1972.

 

 


Masters of Wisdom: The Mahatmas, Their Letters, and the Path
Edward Abdill
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2015. 288 pp., hardcover, $16.95.

What is a Mahatma? Helena Petrovna Blavatsky replied that a Mahatma (or Master, or adept; the terms are more or less interchangeable) is a personage who, by special training and education, has evolved those higher faculties and has attained that spiritual knowledge which ordinary humanity will acquire after passing through numberless series of incarnations.

One of the Masters added to this definition by writing, "The adept is the rare efflorescence of a generation of enquirers; and to become one, he must obey the inward impulse of his soul irrespective of the prudential considerations of worldly science of sagacity." HPB said that the Masters were members of an occult brotherhood, most of whom lived in Tibet.

HPB claimed to have met many adepts in addition to the two who became her teachers, who called themselves Morya (M.) and Koot Hoomi (K.H.). This book makes compelling reading about her relationship with them, their continued guidance and influence on her, and how through their vision the Theosophical Society was born.

Did these men really exist? Doubts were cast, but then there is an abundance of letters written by them. Edward Abdill devotes the first part of his book to the Mahatmas and their letters and the profound wisdom they convey. Most of these letters are from K.H. and M. to HPB and to an Englishman named A.P. Sinnett. HPB and Olcott met Sinnett when they moved the headquarters of the Society from New York to Bombay (today's Mumbai), India, in 1878–79. Sinnett was intrigued by a paranormal phenomenon performed by HPB, which she attributed to the Masters, and he wanted to communicate with them. Later both M. and K.H. corresponded directly with Sinnett. This correspondence was published in 1923 as The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett.

There will be those who will say that the whole idea of the Masters was fabricated, but HPB had no motive for doing so. The Masters asked for nothing. The letters are about universal brotherhood. An open mind is needed to see the wisdom in them.

Abdill also describes how the Masters also had personalities with common sense as well as a sense of humor. After tiring of Sinnett's unending questions, K.H. wrote, "And now, how long do you propose to abstain from interrogation marks?" There are two fascinating chapters on the Masters' views on God, evil, occult philosophy (M. told Sinnett that the desire to see paranormal phenomena is like a drug), and the law of karma. The chapters "Our Sevenfold Nature" and "From Death to Rebirth" are to be read slowly and with single-minded attention.

Were there conflicts in the founding of the Society? Of course there were. "No people, no problems" gives way to "Yes, people, yes, problems." The Masters helped there also. In one letter, K.H. emphasized that HPB was to have no dealings with administrative things but was to have everything to deal with occult matters. She was their direct agent, he said. This work eventually led to the formation of what is today called the Esoteric School of Theosophy.

Through their letters, the Masters continued to give guidance about pitfalls on the path (fill each day's measure with pure thoughts, wise words, kindly deeds, K.H. wrote to Sinnett), on selfishness, pride, egoism, desire, and attachment. They also describe the threefold path of study, meditation, and service. K.H. advises aspirants in one word: "TRY."

Abdill devotes the second part of the book to the Path. After HPB's death, a document was found among her papers entitled "There Is a Road." It says, "There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road and it leads to the very heart of the universe. I can tell you how to find those who will show you the way." In one letter she urges, "Do not work merely for the Theosophical Society, but through it for the humanity." In her classic work The Secret Doctrine, she writes, "Lead the life necessary . . . and Wisdom will come to you naturally."

Are the Masters alive today? Are they still communicating with anyone? Ever since K.H.'s last letter to Annie Besant in 1900 (published in Quest, Summer 2011), there has been no proof that anyone has received letters from the Masters. But as an appendix to his book, Abdill includes a paper delivered in 1955 by the late TSA president Dora Kunz. Here she implies that she has had direct encounters with them, for example: "All of us have masks. All of us think in terms of little things that are not true. If you are in the Master's presence, that all gets wiped out."

The wisdom the Masters have provided is deep and profound. There is something amiss if, after reading Abdill's book, one does not have a desire to communicate with them.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.


Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll
Peter Bebergal
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2014. 252 pp., hardcover, $27.95.

Peter Bebergal's Season of the Witch seems organized in a way resembling certain occult texts: in a fashion elusive and slippery, with elisions and leaps in the narrative which follow a certain internal logic not readily quantified. Nonetheless, the book is an interesting though incomplete survey of the topic of how the occult "saved" rock and roll — even though "grounded" might be the more accurate term.

Bebergal devotes a great deal of space — rightfully — to ethnomusicological discussions of what we might call "proto-rock"—the work songs, shouts, and ring chants of African-American slaves who were influenced by a syncretic blend of pagan and Christian influences. Anyone familiar with Eileen Southern's work on the music of black Americans will find much in this section which is familiar. (But Lucille Bogan's admittedly notorious lyrics to "Shave 'Em Dry" may not be the most obvious examplar of the blues' rejection of the sacred in favor of the purely sensual; surely Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey would have provided earlier and more characteristic examples.)

The author states from the outset that certain favorites of inveterate rock aficionados will be slighted, but I can't help being mildly dismayed that The Incredible String Band doesn't make the cut; that there is a fair amount about the heliocentric cosmology of jazz great Sun Ra but no mention of the maleficent "Eulogy and Light" by the equally cosmic Parliament-Funkadelic; and that XTC's crowning achievement "The Wheel and the Maypole" is cited not at all.

It sounds as though I am losing no opportunity to find fault with the book, but Bebergal is usually remarkably astute in selecting his examples, and one would not necessarily wish his book to be encyclopedic; in any case this was not the author's intention. When he talks about how 1950s anti-rock criticism overtook the form and threatened to strangle it in its cradle, he correctly notes that "rock's detractors were even more sensitive to the music's occult wellspring than the young fans," though one may take issue with his view that "intentions to stop the music in its tracks instead started a conflagration that has never gone out." Bebergal perhaps overstates the notion that rock was a "pagan virus" and understates the virulent racism which also played a significant role in early anti-rock rhetoric.

The book becomes of compelling interest when the author allows his subjective impressions to steer the narrative, notably in the last five chapters. He intelligently discusses seminal rock figures whose whole shtick (let alone lasting fame) must seem inexplicable to those unfamiliar with the vagaries of popular music: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (though not Screamin' Jay Hawkins); Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett (but not the devil-haunted Roky Erikson); and George Harrison and the Beatles (who are given coverage commensurate with their status). The discussion of the Rolling Stones and their abortive collaboration with avant-garde filmmaker (and Aleister Crowley devotee) Kenneth Anger is excellent. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, and (following the hierarchy further down) Kiss are not slighted. The satanic panic of the 1980s is mentioned in passing. In chapter four, the author manages to (partially) explain the mind-set of David Bowie in an interesting essay which in some sense forms the core of the book. From Bowie onwards, the author leads us on a spelunking expedition through the likes of Throbbing Gristle, the Goth movement, Hawkwind, Robert Moog, King Crimson, New Age music, and — leaping into the twenty-first century — Death Metal, Jay Z, and Madonna at the 2012 Superbowl half-time show.

The final chapter gives us the thesis of the book in a nutshell: "Rock's essential rebellious spirit is a spiritual rebellion at its core, and this, like all forms of occult and Gnostic practices, is a threat to the establishment, be it religious, political, or social."

Bebergal has set himself to the task of giving us an impressionistic and idiosyncratic account of where rock and roll and the occult actually do intersect, and, in this limited aim, he has succeeded.

Francis DiMenno

Francis DiMenno is a humorist, historian, and long-time music journalist based in Providence, Rhode Island.

 


Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature's Intelligence
David Fideler
Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2014. 310 pp., $18.95.

The chance to read Restoring the Soul of the World has been quite a gift to me. This book is exquisitely researched, and at times uses deeply poetic language to drive home its main point: our reality is far more complex and interconnected than the dry, dead, and purely mechanistic worldview promoted by modernity.

For someone whose formal education ended several decades ago, Fideler's rich and comprehensive content was a convenient way to update my knowledge in many fields. On the scientific front, I learned that since my school days, many discoveries have been made in cosmology. Readers of "a certain age," still mainly picturing the universe as a stable entity — a single solar system surrounded by eight planets — and only vaguely aware of its position within the Milky Way galaxy, are in for an exciting revelation. And though I have read many explanations of quantum physics, Fideler's rendition of what he calls this "spooky" world allowed me to finally glimpse some astonishing implications if what occurs at the micro level can in any way suggest forces that determine our reality at the macro level.

Fideler also provides a historical perspective few of us ever learned in school. He recounts how early peoples had perceived the world as animated by divine presences, but the Enlightenment ushered in a purely scientific and mechanistic worldview that separated us from nature. Incorporating numerous philosophical, spiritual, and existential perspectives into recent scientific findings, Fideler challenges readers to expand our perceptions outward. He asks us also to accept an interconnected view of ourselves as part of a resacralized universe that we now know is not only alive, but constantly expanding. Amid all this, he manages to include a wonderful primer in depth psychology, some meaningful observations about alchemy, art, beauty, and gardening — and even gave me to understand why a person born and educated in the U.S. would choose to live in Sarajevo.

What becomes evident in reading this book is that we are living in a transitional time. Thanks to recent scientific findings, and global connections that allow us to easily incorporate information from all different fields and cultures into our understandings, modernity's mechanistic view of reality is clearly giving way to something new. Sadly, much of the conventional world either has yet to explicitly catch on to this fact, or else reactively fights against it. Because of this, most of us are living a myth in decline.

Fideler describes the experience Edgar Mitchell and a few other astronauts had when given the opportunity to look back and view the earth from outer space. While most of us may tend to think of earth as an entity divided up by strict geographical and arbitrary political boundaries, these men were able to recognize the fragile and beautiful nature of the living earth as an organic unity. Fideler proposes that this inspiring perspective from the astronauts was a symbolic and historical turning point in human evolution. For those of us who will never have the opportunity to travel in space, Restoring the Soul of the World introduces us to the expanded perspective such activity can inspire, and predicts the type of consciousness that will follow modernity's limited perceptions.

Fideler challenges us to abandon the myth in decline that still dominates the conventional world and begin to incorporate postmodern scientific, cultural, philosophical, historical, psychological, spiritual, and artistic perspectives into our worldview. Though I have read other books on related topics, Restoring the Soul of the World finally drove home for me how connections among the various disciplines can bring us to the exciting perspective of a postmodern reality.

I am greatly looking forward to finding the time to reread this book to cement the new education I gained from it. I especially want to ruminate on how Fideler derived his ambitious conclusion that "according to the new cosmology life is a natural stage in the self-organization and community-building power of matter" (my emphasis).

I wish could assign Fideler's work as required reading for anyone in a position to influence public policy and the lives of others: politicians, executives of large corporations, educators, all clergy (especially fundamentalists), and even parents. Perhaps a watered-down version could be incorporated into the curriculum for school children, and cosmology could become a required high school course!

David Fideler is one of the clearest and most authoritative voices yet for a connected, unitive worldview. The perspective he shares could truly move our society forward in a positive direction. Inquiring minds will want to summon the energy to read and digest this ambitious content for themselves — perhaps multiple times.

Margaret Placentra Johnston

The reviewer is the author of Faith beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind (Quest Books).


 

The Deal: A Guide to Radical and Complete Forgiveness
Richard Smoley
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2015. 164 pp., hardcover,
$16.95

With The Deal: A Guide to Radical and Complete Forgiveness, Quest editor Richard Smoley has created what most writers dream about: an accessible book that will make a difference for a long time to come. If you’re a spiritual writer, you might even go as far as thinking, “Why didn’t I write this book?”

Forgiveness may seem simple, but the hurts, resentments, and grievances we hold on to and the complex psychological, emotional, and social reasons behind them are anything but simple. Smoley assures us that there is something each and every one of us can do
about it if we are willing to forgive and be more forgiving. He tells us forgiving will make our lives freer, better, and more creative, and we in turn will also be forgiven. Smoley shows how often we identify with our hurts and grudges, believing that holding on to them is of value to us, or protects us in some way. But, he stresses, it is in our own best interest to forgive. Only in this awareness
can we become more fully present in our lives and useful to ourselves and humanity.

With his literate and fluent discourse, Smoley may even be creating a new language of compassion, awareness, love, and peaceful coexistence. Smoley does not ignore or minimize the horrors and sufferings of the world. Time and again he examines and writes with originality and depth about difficult subjects and illuminates them through his clarity of thought. As he navigates through difficult waters touching on deep historical grievances, he shows us how such grievances can be used to manipulate groups and nations.

During the twentieth century, many lives were shattered by two major wars, racism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and displacement. As I have learned from my own experience of working with Holocaust survivors and their testimonies, the events of the last century have left permanent scars on many psyches. In the aftermath, how individuals have dealt with forgiveness—in the many forms forgiveness can take—has been partly responsible for how they lived the rest of their lives. Consequently it has also affected the lives of their children and grandchildren.

More recently, as Smoley points out, after the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, the South African government explored a new model of justice. With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the world was able to hear the grievances and testimonies of victims, as well as requests for amnesty by some of the perpetrators of atrocities. The terrible bloodbath that was predicted by many did not happen. Smoley discusses this and other historical examples “because they illustrate on a large scale what forgiveness may accomplish.”

On the spiritual dimensions of forgiveness, Smoley observes, “We as humans can forgive sins or debts that are owed to us personally. But it seems to be true that we can only receive total forgiveness from a higher level of consciousness and being than we are used to in daily life. We often identify this higher level with God.” Whether that is a more personal form of God, as it is for some, or impersonal, as it is for others, is left up to the individual to determine. Smoley, who is no stranger either to the Eastern or to the Judeo-Christian traditions, believes “that forgiveness can be offered and received in a much wider range of contexts than many religions teach.” He opens the door of forgiveness for people of all faiths and also for those who are atheist or agnostic.

The Jewish mystical tradition known as the Kabbalah speaks of Hesed, or “mercy,” and Gevurah, or “severity,” and says they need to be kept in balance. It’s important to be generous, giving, and even indulgent, but there comes a time to exercise boundaries and draw the line. As Smoley writes, “Keeping these in balance is crucial to any mature and decent life.” We often make the mistake of thinking that forgiving something means condoning it, and therefore we are not willing to forgive. But a refusal to forgive does not bring about justice, and forgiveness on a personal level doesn’t mean letting people trample on you, nor does it even necessarily mean forgive and forget. You may remember, but you can still be free of the anger and resentment that initially came with the hurt.

The author of The Deal offers a way of life that is more empowering and freer of grievances over our own mistakes and shortcomings as well as the trespasses of others. In my opinion, one of the best arguments this rare book makes is that “your actions today will have consequences far beyond those you may have expected, and they will benefit and heal, not only yourself and the people you have thought of, but many others you do not know and may never even meet.”

In today’s commercial culture, in which almost everybody is caught up in the frenzy of getting a great deal, forgiveness could, as Smoley claims, be the best deal of your life.

Adelle Chabelski

The reviewer is a translator and human rights advocate. She was historical adviser and interviewer for two award-winning
documentaries, one on the former Soviet Union and the other, produced by Steven Spielberg, entitled Survivors of the Holocaust.


 

Healing without Medicine: From Pioneers to Modern Practice; How Millions Have Been Healed by the Power of the Mind Alone
Albert Amao, PH.D.
Foreword by Mitch Horowitz
Wheaton: Quest Books, 2014. xi + 323 pp., paper, $19.95.

There is much more to healing than surgery or the prescribing of specific medications for certain disorders. So asserts Albert Amao, a clinical hypnotherapist and holistic counselor with a Ph.D. in sociology. In fact he boldly declares that all healing is self-induced:
“Conventional medicine can be said to heal [only] because it removes obstacles so that the body can begin its recuperative capacity.”

In Healing without Medicine, Amao offers a sweeping history of mind healing from the late 1700s to the present. The story begins with Franz Anton Mesmer, father of mesmerism, who posited the existence of an invisible universal energy that permeates all living
beings.

While Mesmer was German, and many of the more well-known psychotherapeutic pioneers were Viennese, Amao finds particular significance in the fact that many other mind healing innovators have hailed from the United States, especially New England.
Included among the earliest American mind healers is Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, an autodidact whose studies led him to this countercultural hypothesis: “Disease being in its roots a wrong belief, change that belief and we cure the disease.” Quimby supposedly described the principle of a subconscious or Universal Mind long before William James or Sigmund Freud.

Other American historical figures whose work Amao discusses include Mary Baker Eddy, a beneficiary of Quimby’s methods who later founded the Christian Science church; Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, founders of the Unity movement; Ernest Holmes, founder of
Religious Science; and other prominent figures in the New Thought movement. 

Into his argument, Amao manages to insert some interesting twists on conventional thought. Where in the past it was believed that genes and DNA determine the biology of a human being, Amao asserts that, on the contrary, thoughts and the environment have a direct influence over genes. I was particularly intrigued by his assertion that “the genius and extraordinary talents expressed by some people are the manifestations of their ability to tap into the Universal Consciousness.”

Amao’s bottom line is that a sick person must regain his or her inner power as a spiritual being in order to heal. While I am certain this is correct to an extent, I believe the contribution of physicians and surgeons should be allowed some degree of credit in the healing equation.

All throughout Healing without Medicine, I kept hoping a book so named would have provided less historical detail and more specific “how to” advice. That is, until I got to the epilogue, where the true genius of this book shines through. Here Amao explains that conventional wisdom has always portrayed our human existence as being defined by various “outer” determinants. Religious determinism tells us that a faraway God dictates our life and destiny, and human suffering is due to original sin. Economic determinism claims that the economic structure of a society determines the nature of all other aspects of life. Freud’s psychological
determinism has told us that human behavior and mental health are dictated by repressed desires and sexual drives. But all these outer determinisms are based upon a flawed theory, and on numerous fronts we humans are now—finally—moving toward the more complete understanding that our true power comes from within. Amao has helped me see how our conventional medical precepts impose a genetic or biological determinism and discourage people from recognizing their power to heal themselves.

I applaud Amao’s efforts. We need more works like this designed to free people from fear-based dependence upon outer authority and direct them toward a personal empowerment based on security and trust in their own personal resources.

Gathering wisdom from divergent corners, and synthesizing seemingly independent, random theories into a coherent whole, as Amao has done, lends momentum to progressive ideas, and helps society move beyond injurious and outmoded conventional beliefs. Many factors are converging now that point to a societywide transformation toward a unitive enlightenment. The more ways people can come to acknowledge their personal power, and the degree of personal responsibility involved in the version of reality we manifest, the more likely our society will come to experience this transformation.

Margaret Placentra Johnston

The reviewer is author of Faith beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind.


How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee
Bart D. Ehrman
San Francisco: Harper One, 2014. 416 pp., hardcover, $27.99

It’s hard to write a cliffhanger about Jesus. But in a way the noted New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman did that with his previous book, Did Jesus Exist? (reviewed in Quest, Spring 2013). Discussing the evidence for  the historical Jesus, Ehrman stopped short of saying what he thought about the resurrection—the central claim of Christianity.

As he promised, however, he has dealt with this topic in his newest book, How Jesus Became God. Ehrman regards Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet much as many scholars have for the last 125 years. In this, he stresses, Jesus was nothing special; there were plenty of such prophets around. But, Ehrman writes, “what made Jesus different from all the others teaching a similar message was the claim that he had been raised from the dead.”

In saying this, Ehrman steers a middle course between the faithful, who say that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and the skeptics, who say that the resurrection was a legend that grew up after Jesus’s time. About the veracity of the resurrection itself, Ehrman points out, academic scholarship can say nothing. “When it comes to miracles such as the resurrection, historical sciences are of no help in establishing exactly what happened.”

Hence Ehrman argues not that Jesus was actually resurrected—this is a religious issue that he believes the historian cannot settle—but that the disciples had certain experiences that they equated with visions of the risen Jesus. And this, he contends, is all you can say when you are working with the rules of historical analysis. Such rules do not admit the possibility of miracles; at best, they can say that people believed that a given miracle had occurred.

This, in essence, is Ehrman’s argument. Taken this far, it is persuasive. Christianity cannot be understood, even historically, without accepting that the disciples must have had some experiences of this kind. After all, there were plenty of other messiahs running
around, and their followers were never able to create great world religions. Only the “Easter event,” as theologians sometimes call it, could explain this fact.

This issue takes up over half of How Jesus Became God and is by far the most interesting part. But the rest of the book has real value as well. It explores how over the centuries Jesus came to be proclaimed as fully God and fully man.

This question is a bit more difficult than you might think. Usually this process is seen as the gradual creation of a myth: little by little, Jesus grows from being a mere man (albeit a very special man) into the Second Person of the Trinity. But, as Ehrman shows, the picture is not so clear. For example, there is the problematic passage in Philippians 2:6–11, which may be dated as early as AD 56, and which speaks of Christ as a divine or semidivine being before he was incarnated on earth. Most scholars agree that this was a hymn that existed before Paul wrote this letter and that he is quoting it (probably with some side comments here and there). If so, this means that Jesus had been accepted as a semidivine being (an angel, say) very soon after his death—at least by some of his followers.

Ehrman takes his discussion forward to later parts of the New Testament and (briefly) to the theology of the church fathers, culminating in the proclamation of the Council of Nicea in 325 of Jesus as fully equal to and coexistent with the Father. But it is clear
that the Christology of the New Testament period is his chief interest, and it is in many ways of most interest to us.

Ehrman discusses how he personally went from being an evangelical Christian to becoming an agnostic, and his forthrightness about this fact is refreshing. I myself think his view of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet is deeply problematic, but that is a subject for something much longer than a review of this length. All in all, in How Jesus Became God, Ehrman again shows that he is among the most balanced as well as among the most readable of New Testament scholars.

Richard Smoley


 

Revolutionaries of the Soul: Reflections on Magicians, Philosophers, and Occultists
GARY LACHMAN
Wheaton: Quest, 2014. x + 214 pp., paper, $19.95.

Compilations of essays don’t always make for satisfying reading. Linked together in book form, the content can seem inconsistent, patchy, or repetitive. However, this book is a triumph, with a strong identity of its own, even though the essays were all individual articles, written for different publications over a period of fifteen years or so. Lachman brings them together in a coherent whole, creating a kind of portrait gallery for us, like a sequence of stained glass windows in a dignified old manor house. Each window tells a story, and Lachman makes sure that there is a story to tell, as he leads us from one luminary to another. The range is wide, within the esoteric field: Dion Fortune, P.D. Ouspensky, C.G. Jung, and Éliphas Lévi, to name some of the better-known figures, and Jean Gebser, Jan Potocki, and Owen Barfield as examples of those less well-known, but—as Lachman points out—deserving a more prominent place in history. Take the gallery tour; you’ll enjoy it.

Each chapter left me eager to start another encounter with these “revolutionaries of the soul.” It’s also a book that you can dip into, one that you can read in any order you want to, or enjoy making your way through steadily, from start to finish. On nights when I couldn’t sleep, it was my favorite reading—although I did avoid chapters involving black magic and suicides at those times!

Lachman’s great strength is that he gives us the person as well as his or her lofty or spiritual ideas. His aim is not to debunk when he reveals that Manly Palmer Hall was addicted to doughnuts and Ouspensky to alcohol, or that James Webb, author of The Occult Underground and other works, was arguably psychotic; he shows us that great teachers and thinkers struggle as we do with the pressures of life, and sometimes do remarkable things against the odds of their background, their constitution, or the difficulties that confront them. If we fail to accept that great teachers have foibles, we risk deifying them—and that can be very dangerous, for all concerned. I therefore appreciated the author’s way of describing his subjects with humor and affection, as well as paying tribute to their achievements. Sometimes his style is a little light or casual, but it is always engaging and genuine.

He also discerns the remarkable influence that some of these characters have had on mainstream culture, which is not always acknowledged. Ouspensky, he points out, directly helped to shape ideas in the poems of T.S. Eliot and the writings of J.B. Priestley. Manly P. Hall’s admirers included astronaut Edgar Mitchell and politician Harry S. Truman—along with Elvis Presley! I have a keen interest on how the esoteric meets the outside world, and influences the course of everyday life. (In my book Explore Alchemy, I have written about how alchemy influenced the composer Monteverdi, changing the course of music in the Western world.) Lachman helps to bring esoteric teaching out of the shadows, where it has often been considered unacceptable territory for academics to enter.

I can’t say for sure whether Lachman has included much new research. I had just finished reading Joyce Collin-
Smith’s autobiography, Call No Man Master, which talks in detail about James Webb, and I couldn’t find much additional material in Lachman’s essay “The Strange Death of James Webb.” I didn’t find that a problem, though, as he has the gift of bringing the person to life, and through his eyes I could see Webb more clearly. The only essay where he fails to do that, in my view, is the one on Julius Evola, a figure who comes across as more remote and less interesting. And, inevitably, some research will have moved on since Lachman wrote his original articles. “Colin Wilson and Faculty X” was published in 1995, and ideas on brain function and consciousness, as expounded by Wilson, surely need reevaluating in the light of current research.

But these are slight drawbacks, and the way in which Lachman includes his personal experiences (wryly describing a time when he considered Aleister Crowley “cool”) and face-to-face interviews (as with Owen Barfield) ensure that the studies are fresh and intriguing.

Lachman’s book is a welcome addition to my shelf, and one that I shall be dipping into for years to come, when I want a digestible approach to Swedenborg, an anecdote about Mme. Blavatsky, or a crystalline portrait of Rudolf Steiner. He has done a good job, benefiting all of us.

Cherry Gilchrist

Cherry Gilchrist is the author of a number of books including Explore Alchemy and The Tree of Life Oracle. Her article “The Open Secret of the Esoteric Orders” appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Quest.

 


Taking the Adventure:Faith and Our Kinshipwith Animals
GRACIA FAY ELLWOOD
Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2014. 236 pp.,
paper, $21.60.

In 1906, with the publication of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, the American public was appalled to learn that
its meat industry was a filthy and cruel enterprise. Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent Eating Animals shows that little
has changed since then. Other books, such as Diet for a Small Planet and The China Study, present compelling
evidence that a carnivorous diet is unhealthy for both us and the planet. Yet we continue to consume everincreasing
amounts of animal flesh, approximately 125 pounds per person annually in the United States.

In Genesis 1:28 we read the cultural mandate familiar to many: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (King James Version). Does this
mean that mankind has the God-given right to enslave, torture, and slaughter all nonhuman beings of the earth as it sees fit? Or does it mean that we are to cherish, love, and respect all of God’s creatures?

Through a deft interweaving of thirty short essays, author and educator Gracia Fay Ellwood strongly asserts
the latter interpretation. 

Calling upon diverse sources from literature, philosophy, behavioral science, and religion, Ellwood argues that there is no one single answer to the question of why we continue to eat more and more animal flesh, but that there are several psychological, cultural, religious, and economic factors that must be taken into consideration. One is the psychological gap that separates humans from animals. In chapter 2, “The Great Wall,” she likens contemporary society to a medieval walled fortress, with humans on the inside and animals on the outside:

What, after all is it that makes us human beings think ourselves to be the sole bearers of intrinsic value, distinguished as the only proper inhabitants of the charmed circle? . . . Animals have central nervous systems; they show signs that they dream; they communicate by sounds and gestures; they suffer; they enjoy. When we perceive that the wall was not created by God or Natural Law, but by human beings, it follows that to confine, harm, or destroy the bodies of creatures that have these capacities—that have their own point of view—is real violence against them. From their point of view it is slavery and murder. They have opinions which deserve to be heard and weighed.

The reader is then introduced to another key player in the game: the unquenchable greed of the corporate farming industry and its necessary by-product, forced ignorance on the part of the consumer. Brand names like "Sunny Farms" and "Orchard Gardens" and terms such as "cage-free" lead us to believe that we are purchasing cruelty-
free, earth-friendly products, when in fact these labels are as misleading as the signs above several of the Nazi
concentration camps that read "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes free"). We are led to believe, by slogan and by
cutesy drawings, that by spending a few pennies more we are contributing to a sustainable, compassionate world,
when in fact these designations are as chimerical as their names are fanciful. In chapter 10, "The Foul Stable," we
read:

Many readers will already be aware of how much worse the situation is in present-day animal-slave operations:crowded reeking mega-sheds virtually never cleaned out, imprisoning thousands or hundreds of thousands of wretched, immobilized chickens and pigs and calves with ammonia-burned lungs, never free of pain and never seeing sunshine until they are dragged out to be killed.

Ellwood’s Taking the Adventure: Faith and Our Kinship with Animals draws heavily upon parables of ancient and modern worlds to illustrate her invitation to veganism. From the Bible and the writings of Lucretius to The Hobbit, A Christmas Carol, and The Chronicles of Narnia, among many others, the author invites the reader upon a great adventure. Not merely the adventure of giving up meat in our daily diets, but to the greater adventure of realizing that all beings, both animal and human, are imbued with the Divine Breath of God. As Annie Besant wrote: “O hidden light, shining in every creature. . . . ”

It is an adventure well worth taking.

Paul Topping

The reviewer is a linguist and language researcher residing in New York City, where he leads the local TOS Animal Healing Circle. He is vegan.


Beyond Mindfulness: The Direct Approach to Lasting Peace, Happiness, and Love
STEPHAN BODIAN
San Bernardino, Calif.: Waterfront Digital Books, 2014.
136 pp., paper, $9.99.

We live in a world of benefits. With everything we do, we want to know: what will I gain from it? But spiritual practice does not talk about benefits. The Bhagavad Gita says, take action but do not expect any fruits. My revered Thai Buddhist teacher told me, “Your job is to only practice.” My Zen teacher threatened to hit me thirty times if I asked once more about benefits.

So I am a little leery when spiritual approaches are compared in terms of their benefits. Dilution of spirituality scares me. Mindfulness practice is getting more attention than any other meditative approach today. The popular show “Sixty Minutes” aired a segment on a three-day mindfulness retreat attended by the television anchor Anderson Cooper. California’s Spirit Rock Meditation Center offers on-line courses on the subject. Companies like Google hold conferences on it that are attended by thousands of employees. Of course, this could not happen if people did not feel some benefits in their day-to-day lives.

Mindfulness practice is a continued attention to the arising and passing away of experiences at all levels of sensation and feeling. It is said to lead to a penetrating insight into the impermanent nature of the material world. Mindfulness retreats allow one to delve deeply into the “sure heart’s release” from suffering. Seeing things as they are from moment to moment, and not as we want them to be, is the key. In addition to reducing stress, offering relief from depression and anxiety, and creating more harmonious relationships, mindfulness practice has been shown to change the brain in significant and positive ways. The therapeutic benefits for chronically ill patients have been proved by research papers. 

Stephan Bodian, author of Meditation for Dummies and former editor-inchief of Yoga Journal, is a well-known meditation teacher. In this book he points out that mindfulness practice has its pitfalls. The practice can become laborious and stagnant, and one may start to look for more spontaneous ways to be present. The practice of deliberate attention may introduce a new type of ego identity as a detached observer, giving one a sense of separateness. One may also use mindfulness to avoid or suppress uncomfortable emotions, so that it turns into a kind of escape from life’s challenges. Instead of using penetrating insight towards a deeper understanding, the practice turns into a sort of addiction (not a bad one to have, but an addiction nonetheless!). Bodian argues that these obstacles can stop you from experiencing abiding peace, spontaneity, freedom, and authenticity. 

The next natural step after mindfulness, Bodian says, is “awakened awareness.” In the Buddhist tradition, it is called “True Self” or “Big Mind” or “Clear Light.” Here is the big difference, as Bodian sees it: awakened awareness is not a state of mind, because states of mind come and go. Awakened awareness abides all the time.

The author uses two terms in this regard: “ground of awareness” and “awakened awareness.” The ground of awareness is the openness in which everything arises (somewhat like your computer screen). Awakened awareness
dawns when you realize that this ground awareness is your natural state. That is what you truly are. This is your background of everyday living, unchanging and self-sustaining. 

The key attributes of living with awakened awareness, as Bodian describes them, are: no sense of center, periphery, or self; no sense of separation between self and others; an awareness that everything is perfect and meaningful just as it is; the absence of effort; responding only to the situation at hand; and, finally, an experience of mystery beyond description.

There is a paradox here. How can you become what you already are? If awakened awareness is your natural
state, then why do you need to approach it? The answer is that you continue to suffer because you do not consciously recognize that you are this awareness. Awareness has to awaken to itself.

Basically the author makes this distinction: mindfulness emphasizes objects of awareness; the “direct approach,” as he calls it, emphasizes the ultimate subject, awakened awareness itself. The book includes a chapter devoted to practicing awakened awareness in everyday life. Suggestions include spending time each day sitting quietly; enjoying your time with loved ones; spending time away from digital devices; and finding time away from e-mail and social networks to be still. These guidelines brought a smile to my face as I wondered what the ancient teachers would have thought of them.

The Upanishads taught this perennial truth: I am That (aham brahmasmi). The Vedantic teachings concern the
ultimate identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. Vedanta is intended to enable the seeker to have
the direct experience of his or her true nature, and it holds that each and every one of us is qualified to have that highest illumination, if we are willing to put forth sincere and intense effort. J. Krishnamurti spoke about “choiceless
awareness.” Is this any different from what Bodian is talking about? I ask the question under the eternal threat of
thirty hits from my Zen teacher.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.

 


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