The quest to understand human consciousness might be compared to a treasure hunt, but I like to think of it more as a butterfly chase. The problem, of course, is that it's a case of human consciousness chasing itself, and so we are immediately faced with a quandary the poet Lew Welch described as groping around in the dark looking for a flashlight when all you need the flashlight for is to find your flashlight. And so if you plan to go after the darkling prize of human consciousness, you better have a good net. To that end, Christian de Quincey recommends we turn to philosophy. His latest book presents a compelling, albeit quirky, case for using it to outfit consciousness in order to catch itself.
De Quincey, a professor of philosophy and consciousness studies at John F. Kennedy University, has written what he calls a "step-by-step 'owner's guide'" for the mind. In the opening pages, he offers a caveat: "Reading this book is likely to challenge some of your basic assumptions about who you are, about the world you live in, and how it all fits together." Indeed, this book could very well unsettle some of its readers, but all of them are in for a bracing ride as de Quincey navigates the foaming waters at the confluence of science, philosophy, and spirituality. In response to the central questionâ€”"what is consciousness and how does it work in the world?"â€”he offers "seven steps to transforming your life." This smacks a bit too much of self-help gimmickry, but, thanks to the author's depth of knowledge and intellectual rigor, the book manages to succeed nevertheless.
The volume is divided into three main sections, each focused on a different mode that human beings use to know themselves and the world. De Quincey refers to these ways of knowing as "gifts," three distinct epistemological styles that he gathers under the headings of philosophical, scientific, and mystical. The first two sections lay the groundwork. Part oneâ€”"The Philosopher's Gift"â€”provides a succinct review of some key philosophical problems that confront anybody who delves into the nature of consciousness, not the least of which is the problem of language. De Quincey also touches on the problems of "other minds" (i.e., it's not "all about me"), the mind-body connection, and free will versus determinism. The considerably lengthier part two, titled "The Scientist's Gift," examines what contemporary science has to say about that marvelous "three-pound universe," the human brain. Following in the footsteps of Carl Jung, de Quincey uses "the physical sciences not to explain the psyche but as a potentially rich source of metaphors."
This is exactly what happens in the heart of the book, part threeâ€”"The Mystic's Gift"â€”wherein chaos theory supplies de Quincey with analogies to convey his central purpose: to encourage as many people as he can to embark on the journey of spiritual transformation, which he says leads ultimately to "a realm beyond all language, beyond all concepts and ideas, and even beyond distinction between knower and known." An ample body of spiritual literature from both East and West suggests he is on to something here. The book is most engaging when pondering the role of "attractors," a term used in chaos theory to refer to the tendency of a system to fall spontaneously into a pattern. In de Quincey's hands, the attractor becomes a metaphor of wide applicability, suggesting how we are able to distill meaning from apparent meaninglessness. Consider the unavailing routine of everyday life. Unavailing? Not in de Quincey's view. "Our lives follow these swirling paths carved out by our own sets of strange attractors, swirling around a multiplicity of basinsâ€”for example, family, friends, work, church, club, hobby, pets, stores, politics, education, entertainment, media, and on and on. And with every strange attractor, we usually have nested systems of other strange attractors, many competing at cross-purposes. Think of all the goals, desires, wishes, and fears that drive us and orient our lives in different ways. Together, they all couple and merge to form the all-encompassing strange attractor that is our life." It would be difficult to find a clearer and more pertinent description of the mysterious causes and conditions that give rise to the extraordinary ordinariness of our daily lives.
Though nowhere does de Quincey mention the venerable William James, his book is very much indebted to James's tradition of generous-hearted, pragmatic spirituality. At one point, he echoes James's famous image of the stream of consciousness: "Let me be clear: When I use the word thought I mean an idea abstracted from the ongoing flow of experience." Other times he reminds me of Gary Zukav, and every once in a while of Alan Watts. Unfortunately, de Quincey is occasionally less than felicitous in his expression, as when we encounter passages that in their breeziness border on platitude: "We are active, voting shareholders in the cosmic corporation, cocreating the very next moment. Let's make it a good one." "You are not who you think you are." "Everything is connected to everything elseâ€”always." Sentences such as these fall short of the lofty goal de Quincey sets for himself and his readers: to get beyond "the narrow prism of the ego." Shopworn expressions won't do it. Nevertheless, a good deal of common-sense counsel and indeed wisdom run throughout the book.
Despite the maladroit moments, De Quincey serves as a companionable guide through some dense philosophical thickets, and he seems aware of his own limitations as a writer. "In places, my tone and style have been ironic, even irreverent. But my intentions have been serious throughout. I wanted to engage you, to appeal to your mind and your heart; for you to realize and appreciate with me the stupendously simple and profound gift of being that we are and have. What a privilege just to be alive, just to existâ€”and to be able to know and enjoy it!" In the end, this book catches no butterflies, but that was never its author's intention. He sets you up to do it for yourself.
John P. O'Grady
John P. O'Grady's latest contribution to Quest was "Shadow Gazing: On Photography and Imagination" in the Fall 2009 issue.
When we recall the names of those prodigious talents whose life was cut short by untimely deaths, we are apt to have mixed feelings. While lamenting the premature loss of a sublime talent, we marvel at how much true genius can produce in a short span of time.
In 1896 the Theosophical world suffered such a loss with the death of William Quan Judge at the age of forty-four. The name of Judge may not be as well known as those of H. P. Blavatsky or Henry Steel Olcott, but it should be. Judge, along with Blavatsky and Olcott, was one of the original founders of the Theosophical Society in 1875. During his short lifespan he wrote fluidly on a broad spectrum of Theosophical topics. The two-volume set Echoes of the Orient brings together a wealth of material from his writings in various Theosophical journals and belongs in the library of any serious student of Theosophy.
Whereas many people find Blavatsky too difficult and Olcott somewhat prosaic, the writings of Judge are neither remote nor pedestrian. John Cooper's 1980 book review of the first edition of Echoes of the Orient, published in Theosophy in Australia, describes Judge's writing as "a simple, straightforward style, terse, and concerned to express what he believed were important truths." In another 1980 review, published in Sunrise, Will Thackara notes Judge's "exceptional ability to condense a powerful line of thinking into a single phrase, so that it acts as a seed in the reader's consciousness." Further praise was delivered by a contemporary of Judge, the Irish poet and mystic George Russell (AE), who described him as "a true adept in . . . sacred lore."
Volume one contains 168 articles from Judge's magazine, The Path, arranged chronologically and supplemented by his "Occult Tales." Volume two includes articles from The Irish Theosophist, Lucifer, and The Theosophist as well as Judge's "Hidden Hints in The Secret Doctrine," his lectures at the 1893 World Parliament of Religion, and replies to common questions put forth by Theosophical inquirers of the day. Improvements to the second edition include the correction of typographical errors, the updating of punctuation and foreign terms, an expanded index, and a larger font size for readability.
Perhaps the lesson to draw from the untimely passing of great souls is that there is little correlation between a productive life and a long life. Though the years allotted to William Quan Judge were few, his inspiring thoughts and words continue to echo through the corridors of time.
David P. Bruce
The reviewer is a long-time member of the Theosophical Society, for which he serves as director of education.
Somewhere the Hindu sage Sri Ramana Maharshi challenges us with the following paradox:
Atman and the world are illusion.
Only Brahman is real.
Atman and Brahman are one.
The challenge of nondualism is venerable, even perennial. It is to demonstrate a unity that underlies the apparent duality of the universe. The word demonstrate is meant to appeal to a sense of higher reason, an awakened intelligence sensitive to the difference between the manifest and unmanifest, as well as to the pivot on which both turn. Such reason is an attainment, gradual or sudden, that opens our human perception of duality to the core reality, ineffable in the vigor of its energies.
In a sweeping survey, generously presented in both idea and language, Richard Smoley stakes out a position somewhat short of nondualism. I say "somewhat short" because The Dice Game of Shiva contains a subtle vacillation between the classical locus of dualismâ€”the Indian darshana or "view" known as Samkhyaâ€”and the more "modern" Advaita Vedanta, which espouses a distinctly nondualist viewpoint. Smoley has the good grace of leaving it to the reader to decide whether the apparent duality of mind and matterâ€”or as he says, consciousness and experienceâ€”is ultimately true or only an aspect of one and the same dream.
The title of the book refers to the Hindu myth of Shiva and his consort Parvati. In the not yet manifest universe, the two are locked in amorous union, only to be interrupted by Narada, portrayed as a sinister yogi who entices them away with a dice game. Here is the mythomeme of difference. Separation is differential manifestation, since it embodies a subtle negation of primordial unity into a one and an other.
Smoley acknowledges the difficulty in speaking a state before difference. As the Rig Veda puts it:
Then there was neither death nor no-death
no sign of night or day.
The One breathed, breathless
though its own impulsion
and there was no Other of any kind.
Smoley wishes to show how Shiva, identified with Self, purusha, "I am," or consciousness, necessarily takes an other. Parvati, prakriti is the manifest universe, the object (or objects) of consciousness, which he refers to as "experience" in all its forms. In that sense, separation or differentiation is apparently built into consciousness. Smoley, like much of twentieth-century thought, tends to side with phenomenology, which maintains that consciousness is necessarily consciousness of something.
Whether it makes sense to speak of consciousness "in itself" or only in conjunction with an object is in fact only part of Smoley's concern. Another major emphasis of his work involves praxis. Here he shows a certain allegiance to Samkhya precepts, at least those espoused by the guru of the Swiss seeker Lizelle Reymond, whose teacher Sri Anirvan provides her with an outline of a course in liberation (described in her memoir To Live Within). The practice involves isolation or kaivalya, which is, as Smoley puts it, "the detachment of purusha, or primordial mind, from its experience." Purusha, or the Self, is without attributes, names, or form. The approach to it, that is, to objectless experience (or the experience of nonexperience) is through a repeated negation of what is presented, neti neti. In more contemporary terms, the bracketing of experienced reality leads one to the transcendental Ego, a residuum of the "I am."
A chief virtue of The Dice Game is the breadth of Smoley's thought. He is equally comfortable in the mainstream of Western metaphysics (Parmenides, Plato, Kant, Schopenhauer, down to the contemporary Daniel Dennett) and the Indian darshanas. The Indian philosopher Shankara makes an appearance in a mention of Advaita Vedanta. There are frequent appeals to Ramana Maharshi as well as to Tibetan sages. Perhaps the riddle of two as one finds a repetition in whatever world wisdom tradition one seeks. Yet in a not too disguised way, the major motif lies closer to home, in Christianity. This should come as no surprise: Smoley is the author of Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition. There he argues for an identity of atman, rigpa, or Buddha nature, with God. God then would be the One without qualities, like Eckhart's Gottheit, so destitute that he is altogether without appearance, since he has given away even his divine being.
The Dice Game is much more than the sum of its parts. Driven by the paradox, Smoley's thought follows a winding itinerary that, as it turns out, has no single destination. In its open acceptance of what it comes acrossâ€”spiritual anguish, the contemporary problem of community, or the place of psychoanalysis in religionâ€”it communicates the adventure of the undertaking. In the very multiplicity of its pathways lies the main challenge for the reader: to maintain a supple receptivity that alone may be able to discern a unitary heartbeat within the body of duality.
Smoley's own inner predilections are disclosed in an anecdotal prologue and help orient the task of reading. A classicist by academic training, he fell under the influence first of the Kabbalah, then of the teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff. The latter functions as a touchstone to his thinking and has enabled him to resolve a cluster of difficult issues.
The Dice Game contains no solution to the problems it raises, no panacea for spiritual illness. It does, however, supply a much-needed tonic for a contemporary individual's search for reality. It does not cater to the weak-minded, but offers hope for those who are willing to think the issues through to the end. This is very good news for religion. Smoley draws together several strands of thought when he says: "If religion is to continue as anything more than a mere simulacrum, it must be guided by those who are willing to 'go in themselves,' by those who are at least comparatively awake, rather than by those who are merely well trained in theological jargon." This is a call to which all motivated readers must respond.
The reviewer is professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at New Paltz and former editor of Parabola.
Claude Bragdon (1866â€“1946) was an architect, graphic artist, theatrical designer, and Theosophist. He is considered to be a member of the Prairie School of architecture, which arose in Chicago from the ideas of Louis Sullivan and is best known through the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Burley Griffin, and Dwight H. Perkins. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, Bragdon was among the leaders of the modernist movement in architecture, but since then his work has largely been neglected by critics, who have preferred a stark, industrial functionality.
Syracuse University professor Jonathan Massey has written a new biography, Crystal and Arabesque: Claude Bragdon, Ornament, and Modern Architecture. With scrupulous scholarship and gorgeous color illustrations, he places the life and significance of Bragdon squarely into perspective. The author provides considerable detail about some of the architect's largest projects, such as the Otis Arch, the Rochester (New York) Chamber of Commerce, and the New York Central Railroad Terminal, and goes on to tell of Bragdon's innovations in graphic design and in multimedia theatrical production, all set in the context of progressive political philosophy, modern mathematics, and Theosophy.
The crystal and arabesque of the biography's title refer to the artist's effort to combine sinuous arabesques with geometric crystalline forms, merging the sensibilities of East and West. Bragdon conceived of architecture as rhythm in space and attempted to bridge societal divisions through a universal language of geometric design. The system of "projective ornament" derived two-dimensional designs from regular geometric solids and n-dimensional hypersolids, making them into flat graphics that seem to occupy space. Crystalline forms were curved and colored to add depth and naturalism to flat designs that could then be applied to surfaces such as brick, textiles, glass, grilles, lampshades, book covers, and tiles. Bragdon explained his Theosophical perspective on architecture in many books, including The Beautiful Necessity, A Primer of Higher Space, and Four-Dimensional Vistas. With a true Progressive Era sensibility, Bragdon was concerned with how individualism fits within a social order, and how to apply his art to promote brotherhood. His buildings emphasized open planning, glass, color, rooftop living, and ornamentation based on Pythagorean principles of harmony.
Bragdon was also a pioneer in multimedia theatrical production. He staged eight Festivals of Song and Light, each of which featured a large orchestra and chorus leading the audience in song while incandescent lights shone through colored geometric filters, creating a stained glass effect. These outdoor community events typified progressive attempts to reform the social order by integrating a fragmented urban culture into a democratic society based on brotherhood. In 1923, he closed his Rochester architectural practice to embrace a second career as a theatrical designer in New York City. He developed a "mobile-color" machine, the Luxorgan, to control lighting with a musical keyboard. He also created abstract film animations set to music in an exploration of "the play of imagery upon the veil of maya."
Within the Theosophical Society, Bragdon was respected and influential. L. W. Rogers, president of the American Theosophical Society (as it was known at the time), approached Bragdon in 1925 to design a new national headquarters building in Wheaton. Bragdon declined the commission because he had moved away from architecture as a profession and instead recommended his friend, Chicago architect Irving Kane Pond. When Rogers and the board of directors deadlocked over the final design, they asked Bragdon to cast a deciding vote, which favored the asymmetrical rendition that ultimately became the L. W. Rogers building. (Pond wrote about Bragdon in his fascinating book The Autobiography of Irving K. Pond: The Sons of Mary and Elihu, edited by David Swan and Terry Tatum [Oak Park, Ill.: Hyoogen Press, 2009].) In 1940, he further put his personal imprint on the headquarters by designing the distinctive entrance arch. The piers that support the wrought-iron arch are topped with Platonic solids, a tetrahedron and a dodecahedron.
Bragdon was an excellent speaker and writer, and his books are well worth reading. He and his sister May founded the Manas Press to publish Theosophical books and pamphlets. With Nicholas Bessaraboff, he did a hugely successful translation of P. D. Ouspensky's Tertium Organum. He also influenced Alfred Stieglitz, AnaÃ¯s Nin, Henry Miller, Lewis Mumford, Norman Bel Geddes, and particularly R. Buckminster Fuller.
In addition to his portrait of Bragdon, Massey provides a lucid history of n-dimensional mathematics and hyperspace philosophy, including the contributions of G. F. B. Riemann, Charles Howard Hinton, Henri PoincarÃ©, Annie Besant, C. W. Leadbeater, and others. He gives equal attention to the communitarian movement, stagecraft, city planning, Theosophy, and ornamentation. For readers interested in subjects ranging from architecture, graphic arts, and mysticism to community singing and tesseracts, this exploration of Bragdon's life and art offers riches.
The reviewer is archivist for the TS national headquarters at Olcott. She is preparing documentation to nominate the Rogers building for the National Register of Historic Places.
This new abridgment of The Secret Doctrine, the major work of H. P. Blavatsky, will be welcomed by students of Theosophy, whether beginners or advanced. The former will find here a manageable version of a book that can at first seem overwhelming and discouraging. Michael Gomes, librarian at the New York lodge of the Theosophical Society, has attained this goal by selecting key passages and characteristic essays so that The Secret Doctrine's basic structure and argument become readily apparent. Those who already have some familiarity with the text, on the other hand, will welcome the insightful introduction. They will also find in this version a useful inventory of the main points in the original work's awesome but sometimes mind-boggling account of the inner development of the universe and humanity.
Gomes's skill in the condensation of Theosophical classics was previously tested in his popular abridgment of Isis Unveiled, published by Quest Books in 1997. With its greater scope and amplitude, The Secret Doctrine presented an even more daunting challenge. Much had to be left out. Entire sections are reduced to a few concise lines, most quotations from other authors are dropped, and as Gomes states, "the sections on Science, dealing as they do with the concerns of nineteenth-century science, proved to be unsalvageable for this abridgment and they have been omitted."
What is left are a "Proem," which draws on lines from Blavatsky's preface, introduction, and proem alike, then the seven stanzas of the Book of Dzyan reproduced in the first volume of the original (entitled Cosmogenesis) with abbreviated commentary for each, plus the twelve stanzas reproduced in the second, Anthropogenesis volume, with further commentary. These are followed by Gomes's part three, which he calls "The Mystery Language of the Initiates." This includes short versions of most of the chapters in part two of the original volume oneâ€”which Blavatsky entitled "The Evolution of Symbolism in Its Approximate Order"â€”plus three comparable pieces from parts two and three of the original volume two, "The Archaic Symbolism of the World-Religions" and "Addenda." Finally, there is material from the very useful "Summing Up" section from the end of volume one, part one, of the original. Gomes has also provided an index, offering helpful identifications of unfamiliar names and terms.
It is always easy to quibble over the selection in books like this. I miss the dramatic and familiar opening lines of the original proem: "An Archaic Manuscriptâ€”a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire, and air, by some unknown processâ€”is before the writer's eye." But Gomes has done the work and made the choices. By and large they are good, and I respect them.
I would like to suggest two possibilities for future editions of this work, which I am confident will long remain in print and go through many editions. One is that the selections be precisely identified by original part and chapter name and number, and preferably also by page numbers in the standard Theosophical Publishing House edition, so that students intrigued by a particular passage and wanting to read more, but not totally at home in the original, can easily find it in the source. This is particularly important since the material is not always in the original order or under the original heading.
Second, I think it would be helpful if, in addition to his excellent introduction, Gomes were to provide concise paragraph introductions to some if not all the selections, summarizing them in accessible contemporary language and in terms of current ideas. This might be particularly important in the case of some of the more challenging Anthropogenesis material. This would make Gomes's valuable work even more engaging to present-day seekers. The clean, easy to read appearance of the present pages, with Blavatsky's often lengthy notes, notorious digressions, and other apparatus deleted, is admirable, but just a little more support for readers would add to their usefulness.
Gomes is to be commended for doing this job in the elegant, painstaking way one would expect from him. His is a book every Theosophist and spiritual explorer ought to have at hand, to pick up for adventures in occult knowledge at odd moments, which will often turn into hours. Reading Gomes's abridgment of The Secret Doctrine will add to the student's store of wisdom and to his or her appreciation of the original. Many will eventually be led back to the original by way of this introduction.
The reviewer is emeritus professor of religion at the University of Southern California and a former vice-president of the Theosophical Society in America. He currently resides at the Krotona School of Theosophy.
My interest in all things macabre drew me to Stephen T. Asma's On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, and I was not disappointed. The book lures readers in with promises of demons, witchcraft, mythical creatures, malformed circus performers, and serial killers. Asma traces the perception of monsters from the melodramatic writings of the ancient world to the cutting-edge transhuman philosophers of the twenty-first century, stopping along the way to have a look at demonic possession, Darwinian natural selection, taxidermy, embryonic morphology, xenophobia, and artificial intelligence. With so many diverse fields of study within its pages, On Monsters is a veritable Hydra-headed demon.
But just like the case of the infamous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the monstrous faÃ§ade of On Monsters is but one side of the coin, the other being a comprehensive historical study that spans the realms of physiology, psychology, and religion. This book is far more than a survey of monstrous phenomenaâ€”it is a work that explores the social evolution of humankind.
Asma demonstrates that in every era, perceptions of monsters are colored by historical context. In the ancient world monsters were a tool of patriarchal machismo, ready-made beasts for manly heroes to conquer. In the church-dominated medieval period, everything was viewed through a Christian lens; monsters were either demonic abominations or members of deformed races whose baptism and salvation were a very real concern. The Enlightenment severed the cord between physiology and theology, and folded the study of monsters into the fields of medicine and science. Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung established a new era in human psychology, and introduced empathy and emotional pathology into the equationâ€”both of which are critical in the study of serial killers and terrorists, who bear the label "monster" in our contemporary milieu. And postmoderns, in their effort to deconstruct all categories, make monsters of rationalists and theologians who still cling to outdated philosophies.
Asma explores all these categories in light of philosophy, natural history, and popular culture. He cites a wide variety of historical and cultural sources, from Aristotle and St. Augustine to the films of David Lynch and the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. But he brings his quirky personality to the table, too, which makes On Monsters a thoroughly enjoyable read. His accessible style lends itself well to complex concepts like evolutionary biology and nanotechnology, all of which he demystifies for the benefit of the layperson. Asma also has a keen sense of humor, which is evident in his choice of historical case studies, such as witches who were accused of stealing men's genitalia. He balances this wit with genuine concern and compassion for those who have been persecuted because of their physical appearance or ethnicity or social standing. The book includes a series of drawings courtesy of the author himself, which serve to heighten both the horror and absurdity of the subject matter.
The truth is that On Monsters isn't really about monsters at all. It's a book about usâ€”all of us, throughout historyâ€”and how we perceive and react to those creatures, people, and ideologies that we deem to be "monstrous." While our perceptions and technology have evolved over time, Asma is careful to point out that some of the old models still apply. We still enjoy vicarious heroic monster-slaying in video games and comic books, the Catholic Church still employs exorcisms, and the Loch Ness monster continues to draw crowds to the Scottish Highlands. After centuries of trying to tame and "civilize" the horrific, we still haven't succeeded. Asma assures us that the monstrous is alive and well, still breathing its acrid smoke, still wrapping its tentacles around our collective imagination. And no matter how many times we try to kill it, it always comes back for more.
Rev. Seth Ethan Carey
The reviewer is the associate minister of the First Congregational Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and an occasional speaker at the TS. His interests include demonology, theodicy, and esoteric Judeo-Christian traditions.
The American freethinker DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett (1818-82) was a defender of civil rights in the great tradition of Thomas Paine. Like most of the Founding Fathers, Paine was a deist, affirming natural rather than revealed religion and morality rather than doctrine and denying that God ever interferes with the laws of nature, propositions with which Bennett would have been fully sympathetic. Paine believed that all human beings have a natural right to freedomâ€”political, intellectual, and spiritual.
In these beliefs, he was closely echoed by D. M. Bennett. Paine's background was Quaker, and Bennett's was Shakerâ€”both groups that set great store on individual liberty and initiative. So both were freethinkers grounded in a moral view of life. These two great defenders of civil rights held views that are basic also to Theosophy: that equality is the essence of life, that human beings have a mind that can embrace the universe (Secret Doctrine 2:17, 105), and that our "future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendor has no limit" as "we are each our own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to ourselves" (Idyll of the White Lotus).
Like Paine and Annie Besant as well, Bennett expressed his views in print (in a periodical he founded and called The Truth Seeker). And like Besant, Bennett was persecuted for his unconventional ideas and was accused of immorality as an excuse for that persecution. He served time in a New York penitentiary, and after his release he traveled abroad, meeting and being honored by Besant in England. He also visited Henry Steel Olcott and H.P. Blavatsky in India, where he joined the Theosophical Society, whose motto, "There is no religion higher than Truth," was fully in line with his convictions.
For HPB's view of Bennett, see her Collected Works, 4:69, 79-80, 146-48, 285-86, 353, 368-69, 393; 5:119; 10:141n.; a biography-bibliography can be found in 4:625-33. Olcott writes about him in Old Diary Leaves 2:327ff. The Masters' view can be found in Mahatma Letters (chronological edition), 105â€“06, 114.
Bennett, Paine, and Theosophy are all lights for our own time, possessing the same confidence in our human ability not merely to endure but to prevail. No time is more in need of this confidence than our own.
Paine and Theosophy are both widely known, if not deeply understood. Bennett is not as well recognized. Now, however, an excellent source of insight into his life and ideals is available in a video by Roderick Bradford: D. M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker. It is a complement to a book of the same title, also by Bradford, reviewed in Quest 94.6 (Nov.-Dec. 2006, 236â€“37). For those more inclined to the visual image than to the printed word, as many of us are, this video is an ideal introduction to its subject. In addition to these two works on Bennett, Bradford, who lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has contributed material in The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007) and articles in American History, American Atheist, Free Inquiry, The Truth Seeker, and Quest.
A three-clip preview of the video can be watched at the following URL: http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php. The second clip, "Infidel Abroad," is especially recommended for its references to Blavatsky, Olcott, Besant, and Theosophy.
The reviewer is former president of the Theosophical Society in America.
Lama Anagarika Govinda (1898â€“1985) was a German practitioner and scholar of the highest magnitude of Buddhism and Eastern thought. Few matched his depth and breadth of scholarship, practical understanding, and experiential insight into the intricacies of Buddhism, especially in its Tibetan form. In addition to his eminent autobiography, The Way of the White Clouds, he wrote adeptly on the psychological and transformational significance of early Buddhist philosophy, the symbolic meanings of the stupa, meditation, and the I Ching. With his Indian wife, Li Gotami, he published works on Tibetan art and on consciousness and meditation. Robert Thurman, professor of Buddhism at Columbia University, regards Govinda as "one of the West's greatest minds of the twentieth century."
Lama Surya Das's foreword, written from the perspective of his own spiritual explorations as a young Western seeker in India and Nepal, offers a telling portrait of the great influence Govinda had on him and other Westerners who, from the mid-twentieth century on, became the chief exponents of Buddhism in the West. The editor's broad-ranging introduction traces some of the major events in Govinda's life and shows the extraordinary impact he had on the practitioners and scholars who came under his influence.
The six essays that constitute the central text of the book, several of which were later expanded into full-length books, were recovered from the archives of the Human Dimensions Institute, where they had been delivered in the 1970s. A final chapter consists of question and answer sessions at the institute.
In the first essay, "From Theravada to Zen," Govinda shows how the foundational teachings of the Buddha as recorded in the earliest Pali text (written down some four centuries after the founder's death) shaped Buddhism as it evolved in its journey from India through China to Japan. The author develops the central truth of shunyata (emptiness) as the sine qua non of the highest realization in Buddhism. He calls for practitioners to discover the natural spontaneity of the human mind and to transform the historical Buddha into a direct experience of their own Buddha mind. The dynamic, changing nature of reality is also explored here.
Each of the remaining chapters addresses a particular spiritual, psychological, or philosophical issue of common import in East and West, which, when approached through the perspective of both cultures, results in a more complete, balanced, and accurate view. Govinda writes: "East and West are the two halves of our human consciousness, comparable to the two poles of a magnet, which condition and correspond to each other, and cannot be separated." This being the case, an alternate subtitle for the book might be "The Integration of East and West," or "East and West: How Each Needs the Other."
Drawing on the work of Roberto Assagioli, founder of Psychosynthesis, in the second chapter, Govinda distinguishes between different operations of the human will, for example, egoistic will contrasted with transpersonal will, and emphasizes the importance of the latter in meditation and the life of a realized person.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin forms the focus of the third chapter. Here Govinda bridges the humanities and the physical sciences, indeed spirit and matter. He writes: "The moment we experience [that] the universe is our 'greater body' and penetrate it spiritually, we experience the great transformation; we have attained liberation, the state of nirvana." He notes further that "the 'spirit' can arise in consciousness only when there is a creative force, which connects all factors of life and consciousness and thus makes them into a unity." For Govinda, wisdom lies in the integration of so-called opposites, the transformation of dualities into polarities.
The fourth chapter distinguishes between drug-induced expansion of consciousness, which can lead to psychic disintegration, and a disciplined meditation practice, which carries the potential for spiritual regeneration.
Though there are many references to meditation throughout the book, the sixth chapter addresses the topic directly. The author develops his central insight concerning the integral relationship of matter and spirit by noting that "the special function of meditation is to reunite the inner and the outer world." Govinda takes to task inadequate forms of philosophy and religion that impose mind-made divisions on reality: "In both philosophy and religion the concepts of oneness, of universality, infinity, boundlessness, formlessness, emptiness, changelessness, timelessness, eternity, and similar one-sided abstractions of a purely conceptual type became the summum bonum and the hallmark of an intellectual spirituality, which tried to isolate them from their counterpoles, namely diversity, individuality, form, materiality, movement in time and space, change, growth, transformation, etc." For Govinda, enlightenment always entails the integration of opposites. He summarizes this insight by noting "that universality cannot be experienced except in the individual and that the individual derives its meaning and value from the realization of its universal background and interrelationship."
In a chapter on the I Ching, Govinda demonstrates how this ancient classic of China is not simply a method of predicting the future, even though it has this use in China as well as in many parts of the Western world. Rather it articulates a comprehensive philosophy of life, and is meant "to help us decide our way from the present into the future on the basis of generally prevailing laws."
The Lost Teachings of Lama Govinda concludes with notes, a selected bibliography, and an index. For anyone wanting practical, transformational teaching from a Buddhist perspective, this book serves well.
James E. Royster
The reviewer is professor emeritus of religious studies at Cleveland State University.
Over the past hundred years, psychic researchers have amassed a large and growing body of evidence supporting the existence of paranormal phenomena, also known as psi. In this book, veteran parapsychologist Lawrence LeShan says that this accumulation of data now enables us to consider the following statements as fact: (1) people often demonstrate knowledge of specific things that could not have been acquired through ordinary sense perception; (2) telepathy seems to operate effectively without regard to distance; (3) emotional bonds between participants greatly facilitate the effectiveness of telepathic communication; and (4) many people become uptight when hearing about psi.
It should come as no surprise that the category of people who become uneasy at the mere mention of paranormal phenomena includes a large number of scientists, because the facts of psi do not fit neatly into their established worldview. But like it or not, we live in a scientific age, in which the views of scientists often carry more weight in the public mind than the proclamations of politicians or religious leaders. As LeShan points out, the irony is that "psi is officially and publicly declared to be impossible in the sciences at the same time that a large percentage of individual scientists believe in it." He cites instances in which scientists refused to publish the results of their psi research for fear of damaging their professional reputations and careers.
Much of A New Science of the Paranormal is addressed to psi researchers, but this book should prove fascinating to the layperson as well. LeShan is openly critical of some of the methods and attitudes of his colleagues, but he suggests a number of ways of gaining greater acceptance for their work among both scientists and the public at large. For instance, he urges parapsychologists to drop the notion that all scientific research has to be done in the laboratory. As LeShan writes, "we are primarily here dealing with consciousness, and consciousness is not quantifiable." Consequently he advises his colleagues not to be thrown off course by skeptics who dismiss certain forms of evidence for psi as "anecdotal"â€”meaning that these events only happened once and are thus not "repeatable." While many repeatable laboratory experiments have been conducted to prove the existence of psiâ€”the card-guessing experiments devised by the pioneering parapsychologist J. B. Rhine are one well-known typeâ€”other forms of paranormal phenomena do not lend themselves to observation in a controlled setting. If Susan gets a sudden feeling that her grandmother is dying and later finds out that her grandmother passed away at that exact time, the fact that this is not a repeatable experiment doesn't diminish the reality of what happened. As LeShan stresses, this is true in other sciences as well: "you are not going to get a repeatable experiment in astronomy, history, or oceanography."
As a result, LeShan believes that his colleagues should not waste time "trying to prove the existence of psi" but instead "get on with studying its properties." The amount of evidence in support of psi is already overwhelming, and has been for some time. If close-minded scientists refuse to accept the data, that is their problem. Simply providing more of the same is not going to change their minds.
The author also urges parapsychologists to stop acting apologetic and feeling inferior to scientists in other fields: "our standards of researchâ€”under the intense pressure and rejection that has long been directed against usâ€”are as high and often higher than those of the 'hard' sciences such as physics and chemistry."
LeShan concludes with this bit of tough love: "The best way to get psi research accepted by our culture at large is first to have it accepted by mainline science. And the best way to have it accepted by mainline science is for psi researchers to start acting like scientists and not like poor relations."
Anybody interested in paranormal research should find this book informative and refreshing. Dr. LeShan offers some fresh ideas about the direction that psi research might take in order to gain greater acceptance for its findings.
David P. Bruce
The reviewer is a long-time member of the Theosophical Society, for which he serves as director of education.
The excitement of the new millennium had scarcely faded when it was followed by a new crazeâ€”the obsession with 2012 as a date of coming cataclysm or redemption. Particularly since The Da Vinci Code, the mainstream media have been keen to New Age enthusiasms, so they have taken up 2012 with gusto. The History Channel and the Discovery Channel have produced any number of shows on this theme, and practically every publisher in the field of alternative spirituality has made its contribution to the 2012 furor.
Very few of these items are worth discussing, but one recent offering is an exception: John Major Jenkinsâ€™s 2012 Story. For the last two decades Jenkins has been looking into the Mayan calendar to discover what its end date of December 21, 2012, meant to the ancient Maya and what it might mean to us today. He does so from the unenviable position of the independent scholar, steering a course between daft New Agers on the one hand, who portray this date as the advent of space brothers and dimensional shifts, and academic scholars on the other, who generally march in the equally mindless lockstep of automatic skepticism. The 2012 Story chronicles Jenkinsâ€™s own findings and experiences.
To begin with, why did this particular dateâ€”the winter solstice of 2012â€”matter so much to the ancient Maya? The classic phase of their civilization ended around a.d. 900, so it was hardly a pressing issue at the time. Jenkins answers this question by sketching out a short history of scholarship in the field, complete with its cast of rogues and geniuses. In short, the Maya had an intricate series of calendars, one of which is based on the baktun, a measure of time encompassing 144,000 days. The Mayans believed that thirteen of these baktuns equaled a great age. The present cycle, they believed, began on August 11, 3114 b.c., and will end on December 21, 2012. (For more on the Mayan calendar, see Barbara J. Sadtlerâ€™s article â€œThe Mayan Fascination with Timeâ€ in this issue.)
Why the Maya might have chosen the 3114 b.c. date is not entirely clear, particularly since it marks a time that long preceded their own civilization. Jenkinsâ€™s own theory is that the Maya were actually calculating back from the 2012 date. What, then, was so important about that? According to Jenkins, it marks a point at which the sun at the winter solstice is in the â€œdark riftâ€ of the Milky Way, a gap in the galaxy (as seen from earth) that corresponds to the galactic center. It is this â€œgalactic alignment,â€ as he calls it, that the Maya believed would herald a regeneration of the age.
The 2012 Story goes on to describe how the date took hold of the popular imagination. This was chiefly the work of JosÃ© ArgÃ¼elles (who now calls himself Valum Votan), the eccentric prophet of the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, and of the late Terence McKenna, who in the 1990s replaced Timothy Leary as the pope of psychedelia. Both ArgÃ¼elles and McKenna had their own different but equally convoluted reasons for coming up with this date, which do not entirely jibe with Jenkinsâ€™s, but he discusses these fully and fairly.
The later part of the book chronicles the public reception of the 2012 date. Jenkins excoriates the cable TV networks for cynically sensationalizing the issue, portraying 2012 as an equivalent of the Christian Doomsday, when in fact, he claims, the Mayans themselves foresaw a time of cyclical renewal. His discussion of the mediaâ€™s treatment of the theme is instructive for anyone who is tempted to take the breathless documentaries of the History Channel and its kin too seriously. I have appeared on some of these myself, and I can testify that the producers asking me the questions offscreen sometimes have trouble keeping a straight face.
Finally, Jenkins provides his own views on this date and what it may mean to us today. Although he is often astute in his criticisms of contemporary civilization, he does not offer much that is new here, and one can go away believing that he thinks indigenous wisdom will save the day for us. To me this seems too simplistic. If the ancient Maya had ways of knowledge that we need to resurrect, they had their share of follies and brutalities as well. Ironically, considering that some are looking to indigenous peoples for answers to our ecological woes, many scholars ascribe the sudden collapse of the Mayan civilization to overexploitation of the environment.
Jenkins also gives more weight to the Traditionalist schoolâ€”the followers of RenÃ© GuÃ©non and Frithjof Schuonâ€”than it deserves. The Traditionalists draw a stark and Manichaean contrast between the glories of â€œtraditionalâ€ societies and the evils of our own corrupt time. (For more on the Traditionalists, see my article â€œAgainst Blavatsky: RenÃ© GuÃ©nonâ€™s Critique of Theosophyâ€ in this issue.) Again this is too easy and too negative. If we are sometimes tempts to spurn the advanced civilization that we have created over the last two centuries, it is a temptation that is best avoided. We may need to transcend this civilization, but that does not mean turning our backs on it.
Despite these faults, and despite its frequently clumsy prose, Jenkinsâ€™s book remains by far the best and most authoritative guide to the 2012 phenomenon. I doubt it will be followed by anything better.