Holy Madness: The Shock Tactics & Radical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools, & Rascal Gurus

Holy Madness: The Shock Tactics & Radical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools, & Rascal Gurus

 by Georg Feuerstein

This super book came just in time to offset the simultaneous arrival of one of those New Age "transformational holistic" publications replete with ads from neither crazy nor wise, but noisily self-pro claimed gurus offering their fast shortcuts to Beatitude at a discount.

Feuerstein's book is invaluable as a guide for the guru-bedeviled. It is remarkably erudite, rich in wisdom, or rather: delightfully sane. It traces the succession of holy fools and nutty adepts through India, Tibet, the Far East, medieval Europe, all the way to contemporary California. Masterly capsulated, finely balanced descriptions of gurus of various plum age make for fascinating reading. They include contemporary-not to be underestimated-"rascal-gurus" like Gurdjieff and Rajneesh, the gifted alcoholic and womanizer adept Chogyam Trungpa, and the multi-faced Da Love Ananda, formerly known as Da Free John.

The latter, at first sight, seemed to have been allotted a bit too much space, but on second thought he seems worth it. Feuerstein's own experiences as his one-time disciple throws light on the contradictory alloys of profound insight, bizarre game playing, irresponsible Tantra-styled genitality, and a taste for, or at least an extraordinary tolerance of, idolization by a gurucentric community.

My only experience with a rascal guru, a country cousin of Gurdjieff, who was the dernier cri of the London counterculture of the thirties, came to an early end when his experimentation with his faithful, his unpredictable alternation of flattery with assaults on the human dignity of his devotees and the sexual shenanigans that were part of the cult, inspired me to find the exit. Ever since, I have been destined to continue my loner's quest for Meaning with out entrusting myself to the often all too eclectic, all too flawed wholesalers and retailers in the enlightenment trade.

Feuerstein's evocations of Da Love Ananda's holy circus almost made me kneel down to thank heaven for having put my trust in a very small number of exceptional books, instead of risking to be forced, as a vegetarian, to eat kidney stew for my own good, or to watch my beloved being initiated to the spirit in the Master's bed. Of course, I have had to listen to choruses of true believers intoning "Ah, but you can't get IT from books!" They may be right, but I decided to gamble on it, and - unless I deceive myself - found that by reading D. T. Suzuki's Essence of Buddhism, the Platform Sutra, Bankei's Sermons and the prologue of St. John's Gospel a few hundred times and reflecting on these for a few decades what is the hurry?- one may catch a glimpse of the Guru Within without being befuddled by the trickeries of the empirical ego.

Could it be that this Guru With in is none other than that Specifically Human of which the Buddha spoke as that "Unborn," that "unconditioned Something (or No-thing) without which all that is born and conditioned in us could not be overcome"?

Ramakrishna and Aurobindo, as Feuerstein points out at the end of this extremely readable book, acknowledged and stimulated a sense of communication between themselves and their disciples, never hesitating to admit their own hum an shortcomings, conscientiously avoiding to violate anyone's integrity, talent, and dignity. Masters of their authenticity seem to be fully aware of the relatedness of the Self -the divine principle-with our finite nature in its process of becoming integrated, liberated from all the auto- deceptions the empirical ego is prone to.

Ramana Maharshi, like Bankei, was such a teacher despite himself; the spiritually starved flocked to him by the thousands for nurture, and found their own core of supreme sanity.

There is no doubt that those who have attained the ultimate realization can be of help to us confused mortals. That in their compassion they would refuse bestowing their blessings on those still suffering, still imprisoned in delusion, is as inconceivable as that they would seek to surround themselves with neurotic devotees.

A new approach to transcending the delusions of the individual and of the even more dangerous in-group ego, is obviously urgently needed. Beyond all doubt the first stirrings of a spirituality that is a radical thrust to the really Real, are becoming perceptible. The all too long ignored reality of the relatedness and interdependence of all beings is rising into our awareness, clarifying our actual place in the fabric of the cosmic Whole. There is nothing to realize but the Real…

In the immense political, ecological, demographic, and economic upheavals of our world the eccentricities of holy fools cavorting among us mortals appear curiously anachronistic. Feuerstein agrees that they are indeed "relics of an archaic spirituality" and that sooner or later they will be replaced by a more integrated approach to self-transcendence, "sustained by teachers who place their personal growth and integrity above the compulsion to teach others and who value compassion and humor above all histrionics." Holy Madness is one of those books "one cannot put down," but it is more than that: it belongs in a prominent spot on one's shelves for future reference.


Spring 1992