THE TRIAL OF SOCRATES, by I. F. Stone; Doubleday (Anchor), New York; paperback.
I remember visiting the Metropolitan Museum with my father when I was very young, and as we were about to make our way out to Fifth Avenue, over-stimulated and tired, I asked him to stop for one last painting. I was intrigued and impressed by the mysterious scene portrayed in Jacque Louis David's “The Death of Socrates.” The drama of the story unfolded as my father relayed in admirable detail the particulars of Socrates' trial and death. He could not, however, give a satisfactory answer to the most fundamental question: Why had Socrates been put to death?
I. F. Stone, the octogenarian champion of, civil liberties, who died this past year, put the question somewhat differently: “How could the trial of Socrates have happened in so free a society? How could Athens have been so untrue to itself?” His attempt to answer these questions has resulted in a much praised bestseller, The Trial of Socrates, now available in a paperback edition.
Socrates' accusers brought two charges against him: that he was guilty of “corrupting the minds of the young, and of believing in deities of his own invention instead of the gods recognized by the state.” It was Socrates'(and Stone's) contention that these specific charges were actually secondary to the true nature of the prosecution. Socrates was convinced that the people had been set against him –“out of envy and love of slander”-because he had spent his lifetime challenging anyone who claimed to possess wisdom; by exposing their ignorance, Socrates won the hatred and jealousy of many Athenians. Stone, on the other hand, would have us believe that the charges were really political, and that Socrates was convicted and sentenced because of his antidemocratic attitude and teachings.
It is not surprising, then, that Stone has taken great pains to remind the reader of the historical and political events that shaped the times during which Socrates lived and died. The trial occurred in 399 B.C. During the fifth century B.C. the Athenian empire grew so strong that many Greek states, and particularly Sparta, became alarmed and fearful of the ambitions of the “tyrant city.” The Peloponnesian War broke out in 431 B.C. and ran its devastating course (including the unprovoked Athenian massacre of the neutral Melians in 416) until 404 when the Thirty Tyrants gained a brief hold on Athens. Democracy was restored in 403 with the victors exhibiting remarkable restraint when a resolution was passed granting amnesty to everyone except the Thirty. Yet four years later this admirable democracy proceeded with the prosecution and execution of Socrates. Why?
The presentation of the historical context is both justifiable and desirable, and it is here that Stone is at his best. There are few scholars who would deny that political considerations (including the memory of two key players in the events, Alcibiades and Critias, and their connection to Socrates) played a part in the case against Socrates. But The Trial of Socrates goes beyond the idea that Socrates was prosecuted and convicted for political reasons; Stone would have us believe that the verdict was right. In an attempt to lift the burden of guilt from the Athenian democracy, Stone argues that Socrates could easily have won acquittal had he wanted it, but that he was more concerned with fulfilling his mission as a crusader against democracy. In fact, Stone says, “Socrates needed the hemlock, as Jesus needed the Crucifixion, to fulfill a mission. The mission left a stain forever on democracy” (page 230).
Was Socrates, as Stone maintains, a passionate, provocative, and arrogant enemy of democracy who intentionally antagonized the jury to insure his own conviction? I doubt it.
If Plato is a trustworthy source (and Stone's reliance on the dialogues would seem to affirm it), then we must allow that Socrates regarded himself as a philosopher, not apolitical philosopher; as a lover of wisdom and not a lover of political wisdom. The distinction is essential. There are several occasions in Plato's dialogues where Socrates maintains an explicitly anti-political or non-political stance (which is not to say anti-democratic): he insists that all of the existing forms of government (not just democracy) are unacceptable because they are not suitable for philosophy (Republic, 497bc). Furthermore, there is no place for the. “just man” or authentic philosopher in democratic, oligarchal, or tyrannical states, and he must therefore disassociate himself from political life entirely or run the risk of endangering his own life (Apology, 331 sq.; Republic, 496cd).
Stone is to be commended for placing the trial within its proper historical context. It should, however, be pointed out that with regard to Socrates' ideas he has done precisely the opposite: by selectively taking ideas out of their original context he has made nonsense of Socrates, and having done so, Stone has no trouble demonstrating that Socrates is talking nonsense.
Stone never mentions the premise upon which the “political” discussion of the Republic proceeds: in the beginning of the Republic, Socrates is arduously challenged by his companions to defend his position that the just man, despite his unpopularity and the many hardships he suffers during his life, is happier than the unjust. Socrates accepts the challenge, but because the subject is so difficult, he suggests that they begin by way of analogy, examining justice in city-states and only afterwards looking for its likeness in individuals (368c-369a). Socrates progressively describes a harmoniously ordered city (polis) which results in a just city with each class (philosopher-guardians, military, and money-makers) Working according to its own functions, unmixed (434). When we finally return to the original concern, the just individual, the analogy is continued: like the community, the soul has three centers with three separate functions. The just individual is one who has ordered and harmonized the reasoning, high-spirited, and appetitive parts of the soul, who has “linked and bound all three together and made of himself a unit, one man instead of many” (443de).
Socrates' politics are the inner politics of the soul. In the Republic the polis is a macranthropos while the individual is truly a micropolis; the laws that govern them are the same, but will never be found in a constitution because they are laws of the natural, or cosmic, order. The conclusion of Book IX anticipates the literal interpretation and criticism of Socrates' politics. There, one of his companions suggests that the perfect city which has just been described can be found nowhere on earth; its home is in the ideal. Socrates answers that perhaps the pattern of it is in heaven “for him who wishes to contemplate it and so beholding to constitute himself its citizen. But it makes no difference whether it exists now or ever will come into being. The politics of this city will be his and of none other” (592ab).
Stone's misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Socratic thought seems to have occurred because he and Socrates address the issue of freedom on different levels. In his preface Stone states that The Trial of Socrates is an investigation of freedom of thought and speech, political freedoms- “not freedom in general, which has too many ambiguities…” Socrates, on the other hand, was interested in true freedom, inner freedom which could not be taken away by any change in the ruling class or in the form of government. He mocked political freedom as an illusion and could see that even the tyrant, who possessed absolute freedom in the general sense, was actually enslaved by desires and appetites. The illusion of freedom is illustrated in the famous cave allegory (Republic 514a et seq.) by the perpetual prisoners who are convinced of their deluded personal reality. Freedom is a rare achievement. Even the prisoner who becomes partially free must be dragged forcefully into the light of the sun, lest the pain of the unaccustomed light drive him back into the darkness. But as Socrates' own life illustrated, for those destined to be free, there is more to be feared in slavery than in death.
Stone hopes to acquit his romantically envisioned Athenian democracy by proving his contention that Socrates engineered his own conviction and execution as a final blow against the democracy he despised. The solution is doubtful and unconvincing, at best. The death of Socrates remains an unsolvable puzzle of metaphysics, psychology, morality, and human history. Socrates insists that the one who has become free and wise is intolerable to the multitude, even to the point of being executed. The idea is presented; is a horrible fact, but a fact nonetheless. When I apply the idea to myself, I must ask whether that part of my soul or constitution which is free and wise (if there is such a one) is not equally abhorrent and vulnerable to the multitudinous desires of my appetitive self/selves. If that is really the case, then I must proceed as intelligently as possible and with the greatest, sensitivity to the identification and ordering of the mental, emotional, and physical/appetitive functions of the soul. This kind of thinking is admittedly foreign to The Trial of Socrates, but it emerges when one is allowed to ponder the death of Socrates without feeling an incumbent necessity to solve anything-for its application by analogy to the individual soul, right or wrong, is no more a solution than that provided by Mr. Stone. The death of Socrates remains, I suppose, a mystery.
THE GODDESS WITHIN: A Guide to the Eternal Myths that Shape Women's Lives, by Jennifer Barker Woolger and Roger J. Woolger; Fawcett/Columbine 1989; paperback.
Amid the rising and welcome tide of books on the feminine, this book stands like a beam shedding light in all directions for women and men alike. Psychotherapist and teacher Jennifer Woolger and her Jungian analyst husband, Roger Woolger, author of Other Lives, Other Selves, show that goddess psychology makes sense. Their book takes the enduring and heretofore quite puzzling ancient myths of the goddesses and decodes them in warm, human, sometimes humorous terms, showing them to be apt reflections of our own contemporary propensities. The goddesses are no longer frozen on Mount Olympus in the past; they are alive and well in every psyche. Women can identify with them, and men will discover them in the projections they make upon the women in their lives, or find them in their own animas, as Jung has suggested.
Hera is to be found at the committee meeting next Tuesday;. Demeter is baking cookies for the children; Aphrodite is twirling in front of the mirror trying out a new perfume; while Artemis scoffs at her, pulling on her jogging shoes and lifting her rucksack. Allthe while, Persephone is writing a poem on fading and festering petals, while at the local college, Athena is giving a brisk lecture on the importance of accepting female intellect as a sign of the times.
This book is filled with anecdotes that help us perceive the various goddesses with which we women identify and the ways we tend to continue their divine quarrels as we put down what we disapprove of in other women. We learn that in so doing we are suppressing those very aspects of the feminine in ourselves. To make sure that we understand, a comprehensive test is included in the book to help readers recognize the goddesses (or inner processes) they approve of and those they have difficulty with.
I could not help but apply this to Louisa May Alcott's classic and enduring book, Little Women, where Marmie (Demeter) dealt with four of the above-mentioned goddesses as her young daughters. No wonder the book endures!
The Woolgers have been giving “Goddess Wheel” workshops, and they share some of their techniques, games, and strategies for making women conscious of how we often take a stance and fail to understand how other women feel or where they are coming from. It might help a Demeter to stop worrying so much about the kids, take off her apron, and put on a sexy nightie for her husband. It might help many a man to understand that it is not reasonable to expect all the goddesses to appear simultaneously in one woman, but how, with patience and skill, he could uncover them one by one by appreciating and encouraging them as they appear. Potentially we have them all, as men have all the gods; we have them in both their light and their darker, or negative, aspects. (Myths, unlike religions in the West, do not suppress the Shadow or project it onto a devil.)
The average American woman is currently expected to be Aphrodite in bed, Demeter at breakfast, Hera or Athena on the job, to rush home to feed the family and tuck in the kids, and be off as Artemis on a camping trip for the weekend! This impossible dilemma and variations of it are the stock-in-trade of our advertisements, movies, and soap operas, as the Woolgers point out. In fact, there is a helpful guide to books and movies featuring the various goddesses in modem disguise. Add to this, a whole chapter just for men, and you can see that this is a veritable goddess almanac.
We should never be bored again waiting in line at the supermarket or sitting through meetings or coping with families. We can goddess watch and see both the dark, cruel, or bossy and power-seeking aspects and the caring, loving, or irresistible ones shining through the eyes of every girl, woman, and crone.
Above all, this book restores the timeless depth of wisdom and dignity of myths and their power to convey their messages of compelling truth in that eternity we call Now.
-ALICE O. HOWELL
IMMORTAL SISTERS: Secrets of Taoist Women, by Thomas Cleary, translator and editor; Shambhala, 1989; paperback.
At first glance, this little book feels like a collection of scattered bits without cohesiveness or much coherence. But on repeated returns to it, the reader keeps finding little gems from another world and another time, which entitle this slim volume to a special place in an esoteric library.
There are six immortal sisters, dating from the third to twelfth centuries, and their work, along with Cleary's valuable notes, is presented in three sections: Sun Bu-er's poems and secrets; “Poetry of Female Real People: Alchemical Secrets of the Feminine Tao,” and a very brief section on “Spiritual Alchemy for Women.”
Several features may endear Thomas Cleary's work to a variety of tastes. Besides the obvious references to Confucianism, Chan Buddhism, I Ching, and other Taoist themes around openness and breathing, there are echoes of kundalini, devas, Sufis, and Mahatmas. The constant is the alchemy of immortality. For present-day feminists there is the editor's long introduction on the importance of Chinese women in Taoism from several centuries back, including the intriguing concept of an inner and outer Mysterious Female (p. 63).
It is from the six chosen women's writings, chiefly short and highly symbolic poems, that the material presented in English for the first time is drawn. The explanatory notes are a requirement to clarify a symbolism dating back several hundred years and differing richly from metaphors more commonly used in the West. An example of this is in multiple representations of yin and yang as spirit and energy, as jade and gold, as dragon and tiger, as clouds and wind, to name a few. Also linked to these complementing rather than contrasting doubles is the concept of concentration as gentle or intense. Drunkenness used as a metaphor for enlightenment (p. 80) gives pause, but the picture of “holding a full bowl” (p. 88) when care to avoid mental and physical waste of energy is meant, has a rightness about it. The color yellow, naming the dominant river of China, also symbolizes the spinal sushumna (p. 98), and Yellow Court (p. 88) is related not only to the legendary Yellow Emperor, but also to the metaphysical concept of perfect poise.
Thomas Cleary himself is identified on the cover as a Harvard Ph.D. in Oriental languages and civilization, with much work in translation to his credit. It would be good to know more about him, and to find in the book some information on the source of its content, reasons for selection, and particularly the context of the all-important notes which aside from the first introduction appear to be part of the translated material. Only in the striking explanations of the twentieth-century Chen Yingning is a commentator identified, leaving the reader with a curiosity to know more about him, too.
The book is recommended, especially to students of the esoteric. It is a vivid reflection of the ever intertwining strands of religious conceptualization in a millennium of Chinese history.
NEW RELIGIONS AND THE THEOLOGICAL IMAGINATION IN AMERICA, by Mary Farrell Bednarowski; Indiana University Press, 1989; hardcover.
This book should expand the minds of many readers on the nature of religion and theological thought. Bednarowski examines six “new religions”-Mormonism, Christian Science, Theosophy, Scientology, the Unifcation Church, and New Age thought-comparing and contrasting their varied approaches to religious questions such as: Who or what is God like? What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of death and the afterlife? How do we live our lives, ethically?
One can quarrel with Bednarowski about whether, for example, Theosophy and New Age thought are really religions. H. P. Blavatsky, founder of modem Theosophy, said Theosophy was not a religion, and Theosophists include practitioners of many faiths, East and West-there are Hindus, Buddhists, Christians of many denominations, Jews, and more among the Theosophists, who seek the core of the ageless wisdom in whatever religious tradition. And New Age thought is a conglomeration of interests-spiritual, social, and political which at best can be declared a “network” based on some common threads of thought. New Agers, too, can be found in nearly every church, temple, or synagogue. But these may be quibbles in an age when religion and spirituality are mass-marketed, and New Age sections proliferate in bookstores.
Then too, Bednarowski does a solid job of presenting the ideas of these six modern religious or spiritual movements. Her sources are impeccable, and her treatment across the board seems very fair. Within the parameters she has chosen, the distinctions among the six movements are clear, and she shows that each of the movements has an internal integrity. Presenting them as she does, she also reveals fundamental continuities in the way religious thought has developed in America.
She has organized the book as a conversation among the six movements on important questions of cosmology, metaphysics, ethics, and eschatology. It should enhance understanding in academic settings of these relatively recent expressions of the religious quest. Recent doesn’t necessarily mean faddish, and for that matter, that which is labeled “New” is often found to be grounded in something very old indeed. Bednarowski is professor of religious studies and director of the Master of Arts program at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Her book is one of a series issued under the general title of “Religion in North America,” Catherine L. Albanese and Stephen J. Stein, editors.
-WILLIAM J. METZGER
PHILOSOPHY GONE WILD, by Holmes Rolston, III: Prometheus Books, Buffalo. New York; paperback.
This eye-catching title introduces a collection of fifteen essays on ecological ethics. Drawing on many sources, Rolston explores the human relationship to nature from many perspectives.
One of the most interesting points to me is the manner in which most of society views the environment not as something innately deserving of protection, but as something to be preserved for an ultimately more valuable use by humanity.
This question of value is basic to the entire book. What are the values in nature, and where do they fit in the river of life? Among the values offered are economic, life support, recreational, scientific, aesthetic, life, diversity and unity, stability and spontaneity, and sacramental. Most people give little or no thought to the earth as a living entity, but regard it only as existing to be used by humanity, as if we are the only living system whose desires and needs are important. This view, unfortunately, is held by many so-called conservationists, whose approaches are completely anthropocentric. To quote Rolston:
Future historians will find our century remarkable for its breadth of knowledge and narrowness of value judgments. Never have humans known so much about, and valued so little in, the great chain of being. As a result, the great ecological crisis is not surprising. To devalue nature and inflate human worth is to do business in a false currency. This yields a dysfunctional, monopolistic world view. We are misfits because we have misread our life support system.
He contends that our exploitation of nature, even in supposedly protected parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, is due to our lack of admiring .respect for nature itself. Environmental concern these days seems mainly business oriented and it is only very recently that any environmental prohibitions have arisen. According to Rolston, these increasing concerns fall into two categories: a humanistic environmental ethic, or a naturalistic one. The former deals only with how nature relates to human needs and gains, while the latter also considers the fact that “humans are major but not exclusive stockholders” of this earthly picture, and that the entire biosystem is involved and needs preserving.
The best of possible worlds is not one entirely consumed by humans, but one that has place for the urban, rural, and wild. Only with moral concern for the whole biological business can we do our work of living well. This ethic . . . defends all life in its ecosystem integrity.
Whether Earth was made for us is a question we leave to the theologians, who are not likely to say that it was made for us to exploit. We can meanwhile say that we were made for Earth (if not also by it), and this gives us both the power and the duty so to act that we continue to fit this Earth, the substance, the sustainer of life.
After a discussion of our duties to endangered species, again contrasting the egocentric approach of most of society with the growing awareness of intrinsic rights and needs of other manifestations of life on the planet, Rolston closes with five accounts of personal encounters with nature, “an experiential plunge into nature,” which we enter as “latecomers” inheriting a “value-laden, storied Earth.”
This book is thoughtful and inclusive. While not stated openly, it is clearly implied in Rolston's conclusions that we need to accept the fact that we and all other species are part of nature, and not separate from it. A final quote from the book seems to sum up the ecological picture today:
The contemporary ethical systems seem misfits in the role most recently demanded of them. There is something overspecialized about an ethic, held by the dominant class of Homo sapiens, that regards the welfare of only one of several million species as an object of duty. If this requires a paradigm change about the sorts of things to which duty can attach, so much the worse for those ethics no longer functioning in, nor suited to, their changing environment. The anthropocentrism associated with them was fiction anyway. There is something Newtonian, not yet Einsteinian, besides something morally naive, about living in a reference frame where one species takes itself as absolute and values everything else relative to its utility.
THE WAY OF THE LOVER: The Awakening & Embodiment of the Full Human, by Robert Augustus Masters; Xanthyros Foundation, West Vancouver, British Columbia, 1988: paperback.
J. Krishnamurti, in his talks and writings, always spoke against spiritual ambition and striving. “The search for result, for success,” he says in Commentaries on Living, 1st Series, “is blinding, limiting; it is ever coming to an end.” To set for ourselves a goal that is elsewhere is to avoid true awakening here and now.
Similarly, Robert Augustus Masters, in his book The Way of the Lover, speaks of moving “not from -here to there, but from here to a deeper here.” This is not the United States' Robert Masters, but a Canadian teacher who guides a spiritual community in British Columbia, and who has published several books and audiocassettes through his sponsoring organization, the Xanthyros Foundation. His main theme in this book is that of the “lover,” his term for an awakened and awakening human being, paradoxical, ecstatic, living without fear, hope, or nostalgia, always in the here-and- now. “The lover is not within, nor without, but simply here, living as the very core of each moment…”
Unlike Krishnamurti, who took an uncompromising view against methods such as rituals, Masters is not against using methods when it suits the teacher's purposes; “[the lover] uses rituals when necessary, but does not depend upon them.” The lover is no mere peddler of truth but one who constantly embodies and experiences truth. The lover is aware without being detached, in tune with all his or her emotions, whether good or bad, always going through them instead of avoiding or “rising above” them. The lover uses spiritual teachers to their full advantage without becoming a devotee, and knows the difference between vulnerability and helplessness-to “stand strong without being rigid.”
The Way of the Lover is a difficult book to read. Masters is ruthless in his assessment of the various habits to which many of us cling in this transitional period on Earth. He attacks the false optimism of many “New Age” teachers, the brainwashing used by spiritual gurus and cults, guilt mechanisms, pornography, sex, romance, and masturbation. He speaks with an authoritative voice, a voice attributed not to any disembodied being, but simply to a man who has attained some self-mastery through consciously experiencing all parts of himself. Just about everyone's illusions come under fire in this book; whether we are romantics, cynics, extroverts, introverts, or guru-worshippers, Masters rubs our noses in our addictions, telling us to expand our boundaries rather than collapse them.
By going through our more painful or anti-social emotions we may, Masters seems to suggest, tread the ladder of evolution without leaving any parts of ourselves behind. With such an approach, even jealousy becomes useful, grief and pain become “but available light-energy.” Perhaps this is because the energy that was once used in avoiding our feelings is used to experience all feelings, “good” and “bad.” Therapists tell us that it is through looking closely at our feelings, rather than indulging or inhibiting them, that we begin to get better in touch with them. But Masters tells us to go further, to “look inside our looking,” to examine our motivations for looking. If we are detached observers, perhaps we are inventing a new way of avoiding our feelings; but if we participate in them and own them-if we are, as he says, “juicy”-perhaps this energy will be freed for our enrichment and empowerment.
Like Krishnamurti, Masters seems to distrust language as a way of expressing the enlightened experience. But, rather than be cautious about his use of it, he instead appears in his enthusiasm to celebrate this distrust, dancing on the slippery rail of discourse, using run-on sentences, ending many chapters with ellipses ( . . . ), and even occasionally lapsing into rhyme. The anger at wasted human potential, the repeated invitations to “be here now,” combined with his frequent use of strong language and the sixteen poems that make Part 111, all hint at a curious combination of Baba Ram Dass and Allen Ginsberg. We get the impression of a man firing scattershot at the heart of truth, enlightened but irritable, drunk with his own insights.
The Way of the Lover will make you question old ideas about love, sex, self-knowledge, and even morality. Its ideas are meant to be lived, not discussed or abstracted. It may anger, sadden, or outrage you, but its allowance for all responses in the face of blunt truth make it a rare, genuine expression of the ageless wisdom.
THE JEFFERSON BIBLE, by Thomas Jefferson, with an introduction by F. Forrester Church and an afterword by Jaroslav Pelikan: Beacon Press, 1989: paperback.
The third president of the United States was a genuine Renaissance person, who produced a remarkable range of intellectual and creative achievements. One of the lesser-known of these was the Jefferson Bible, a bold accomplishment, now made available in a pocket-sized edition with a new introduction and afterword.
In his introduction to the new edition, F. Forrester Church, Senior minister of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City, writes that his own introduction to the Jefferson Bible came when his father, the late Senator Frank Church, presented him with a copy that the elder Church had been given on the day of his swearing in as a U.S. senator in 1956, “as had been the Custom since 1904.”
Jaroslav Pelikan, in an afterword, notes Jefferson's “sheer audacity,” in editing the New Testament accounts, to tell “the life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth” without the “corruptions” Jefferson felt marred the text. Jefferson “wanted to find the essence of true religion in the Gospels, an essence whose basic content he had already formulated for himself with considerable simplicity and clarity.”
Jefferson himself, in a letter to John Adams, described his task as that of “paring off the amphiboligisms into which [the evangelists] have been led” and leaving “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to many”-“and which is as distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.”
My own discovery of the Jefferson Bible was in a remaindered facsimile edition which. I happened to pick up in a bookstore for one dollar many years ago. It has been long out of print, and this new edition from Beacon Press, with the Church and Pelikan pieces added, is most welcome.
SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY: A Guide to Reconnection with Nature, by Jim Nollman; Bantam New Age Books; paperback, 227 pages.
MOTHER EARTH SPIRITUALITY: Native American Paths to Healing Ourselves and Our World, by Ed McGaa, Eagle Man; Harper and Row, Sun Francisco; paperback, 230 pages.
DHARMA GAIA: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology, edited by Allan Hunt Badiner; Parallax Press, Berkeley: paperback, 264 pages.
SACRED PLACES: How the Living Earth Seeks Our Friendship, by James A. Swan; Bear & Company, Sante Fe, New Mexico; paperback, 236 pages.
Since the birth of the modern environmental movement, the concept of “ecology” itself has undergone numerous transformations. One of the most important of these is the emergence of what has been called “deep ecology,” a philosophy that acknowledges the inherent rights and freedom 'of all beings. In Spiritual Ecology Jim Nollman takes a step beyond secular conceptions of deep ecology to suggest an ecological thinking that is unreservedly spiritual in nature. A truly “spiritual” relationship with nature is one that acknowledges the unique awareness, intuition, love, and wisdom that animals and plants possess, while at the same time recognizing our own mysterious depths of spirituality and awareness. Widely known for his work on interspecies communication (chronicled in Dolphin Dreamtime, previously titled Animal Dreaming), Nollman here writes engagingly of the need to reconsider our connection with nature, and stimulates us to look at nature in ways that we may not have considered before. Told- largely through his own experiences and insights, this is an intensely personal account, possessing a directness frequently absent from more academic treatments of ecology and nature.
In Mother Birth Spirituality, Sioux Indian Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, places environmental and ecological concern within the frame work of traditional Native American thinking. For thousands of years before the modem environmental movement, Native Americans had developed beliefs and rituals that expressed a profoundly heightened sensitivity to nature. Whereas modern environmental understanding can too often remain at the purely abstract, cerebral level, in the Native American tradition we encounter a practical set of methods to directly re-engage and regenerate our connection with nature. More provocatively, perhaps, the Native American tradition rakes the question of whether we can, through our rituals, also communicate with the Earth and actively partake in her much-needed healing. McGaa writes:
Now our planet is in great danger. Why not turn to ceremony, at least to get the feeling, the message that our planet must live, She is speaking to us quite strongly already. Let her speak also in ceremony. We can gain a special resolve by communicating within the ceremony.
In this informative and highly readable volume, McGaa presents an overview of many key Sioux Ceremonies, as well as offering specific ways that we can begin working with some of these practices ourselves. There is also a fascinating section on the ways Native American ideas and customs have influenced modern American thought and political institutions. For those who wish to explore the connection between modern ecological ideas and traditional wisdom towards nature, this book provides a valuable introduction.
Still another perspective on the current environmental issue can be found within the excellent anthology Dharma Gaia. In this wide-ranging collections of essays from such writers as Joan Halifax, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Gary Snyder, we encounter the relationship between humanity and nature through the eyes of Buddhist thought. Whereas in Native American culture we find a highly evolved sensitivity and understanding of nature (and the rituals to enhance that relationship), what Buddhism offers is a meditative tradition through which individuals may widen their boundaries of identity to encompass the world itself. Among the many ideas one encounters in this collection, the most common theme seems to be this: that as Buddha beings, we exist not simply as isolated egos, but share in the interconnectedness of all life forms everywhere. Hence, the enlightened view of self becomes what Joanna Macy in her essay terms the “ecological self.” In his introduction to the volume, editor Alan Hunt Badiner writes:
Buddhism offers a clearly defined system of ethics, a guide to ecological living, right here, right now. Meditation is its primary tool for raising ecological consciousness. In meditation, awareness of our environment deepens and our identity expands to include the multitude of circumstances and conditions that come together to form our existence, curiosity and respect for the beauty and power of nature is enhanced, revealing an innate bio-spirituality.
This is a moving and thought-provoking work that will be of interest to all who are concerned about the spiritual dimensions of ecology and environmentalism.
In Jim Swan's Sacred Places our attention shifts to the study of the unique properties and qualities associated with the landscape itself. For thousands of years men and women have recognized the power of different sites to move us in ways that are not easily explained by modern science. Why is it, in particular, that certain areas have long been considered “sacred” while others have not? Swan, an “environmental psychologist,” examines questions such as these, and offers a variety of perspectives. Drawing upon both modern research and traditional native wisdom, he explores such areas as the varieties of sacred place; the role of sacred place in the experiencing of mystical states, and the dilemma of sacred places in the modern world. Also included is a regional guide to sacred places on public lands within the United States. Along with Paul Devereux's, Sacred Places offers one of the best introductions to the subject of Earth mysteries I have encountered.
WAITING FOR THE MARTIAN EXPRESS: Cosmic Visitors, Earth Warriors, Luminous Dreams, by Richard Grossinger; North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1989; paperback.
Richard Grossinger is a New Age Tom Wolfe or Hunter S. Thompson in applying the New Journalism to New Age reporting. The present volume is a collection of eighteen of his essays, most previously published but now revised.
These essays range over such “New Age” phenomena as UFOs and extraterrestrial visitors, martial arts, shamanism, a stonework human face on the surface of Mars, holistic health, and symbolic dreams. But a subtext runs through most of Grossinger's writing –a concern about the social problems of our time: the threat of nuclear holocaust, homelessness and poverty, drugs, and child abuse. The tension between these two focuses gives his writing its special quality.
On the one hand, Grossinger seems fascinated with the promise of New Age movements to give cosmic insight and natural harmony to their practitioners. He grooves on Chogyam Trungpa, Gurdjieff, Don Juan Matus, and Da Free John. On the other hand, he recognizes the plastic, feel-good optimism of much of the New Age-the low comedy of initiation by bathing with dolphins and of an Aboriginal shaman who talks like Father Divine. (Does anyone these days remember that proto-flower child, Father Divine?) The New Age as spiritual playtime for the yupper classes is reminiscent of the French nobility under Louis XVI who liked to play at being shepherds and shepherdesses in the gardens of Versailles until the deluge came.
New Age pundits reveal hidden mysteries and cosmic truths above us, but ignore the agonies of the poor and the immorality of the exploiters around us. It is this contrast that hovers ever in the background and sometimes in the forefront of Grossinger's critique of society and the New Age movement. That critique has one villain-narrow-minded intolerance and bigotry-with two main faces: the orthodoxy of scientific materialism and the orthodoxy of religious fundamentalism. But the New Age movement has its own band of true believers with their own brand of salvation, the questioning of which can call forth reactions just as intolerant and bigoted as those of the rationalist or the pietist:
I consider all the present talk (vintage, 1987) about channels, mediums, extraterrestrials, shamanic trances, healing crystals, and chreodes to be relevant and exciting, but I resist being told exactly what any of these things mean, and particularly how they relate on a one-to-one literal basis to our evolution, personal or planetary. Such spiritual authoritarianism is always someone else's interpretation of their own experience for their own reasons. (158)
Such rejection of external authority is in the great esoteric tradition-but it is fruitless unless joined to a realization of internal truth.
Grossinger's command of New Age movements is impressively broad, but correspondingly shallow. His prose is poetic but sometimes consists of little more than New Age name-dropping. He is fascinated by the externals of the New Age movement and intuits the enduring inner reality that the dumb outer show of New Age business masks as much as it reveals:
...the world must change according to esoteric principles at its core. But the marketed
New Age is at best a series of well-meaning simplifications and at worst a hustle and a fraud made possible by those simplifications. It is the marketing of the New Age, the invention of attractive mirages, the promulgation of cliches, that this book addresses. A true cultural and spiritual revival is our only hope. (12)
Grossinger, however, offers no clue about where to look for that hope and revival. He alternates between attraction to New Age promises and the stance of the New Journalism, with its curious blend of amused objectivity and gonzo responses. What he lacks is an integrating vision to make sense of the pain of phenomenal living and the bliss of numinous experience. The first is foreign to New Agers; the second, to New Journalists. The result is a hollowness at the core of things:
We live among ghosts and chimeras; yet something alive is addressing us from a locale we have recognized only as Void. It may have been addressing us forever. We do not know what it is. I repeat-despite claims of Mayan prophecy and bodies of Martians in the White House, despite trance visits to golden cities and radar backings of UFOs, predicted earthquakes and second comings-we do not know what is happening to w we do not even know who we have been.. . . But if we buy the New Age with its superficially glamorous sideshows, we may miss a marvelous phenomenon; in fact, we may miss our own evolution. (155)
Grossinger offers no direction to travel, but a useful warning against detours along the way.
WORDS TO LIVE BY: Inspirations for Every Day, by Eknath Easwaran; Nilgiri Press, Petaluma, CA, 1990; paperback.
The person seeking a background for meditation will find Eknath Easwaran's Words to Live by beneficial. One page-and one page only-is devoted to a spiritual quotation for each day of the calendar year and Easwaran's brief commentary on the quotation.
Most of the readings are extracted from world religions; however, also included are passages of poetry from such diverse notables as William Shakespeare and Francis Thompson. Mahatma Gandhi, who had an immense influence on the thinking of Easwaran, an Indian by birth, is generously represented. Bible passages are numerous, and the writings of Christian mystics such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. Thomas a Kempis appear prominently.
The book is based on daily meditation and the use of the mantram or the Holy Name, areas central to Easwaran's teachings in America since his founding in 1960 of the Blue Mountain Center in Berkeley, California. Among Easwaran's previously published books are Meditation: An Eight-Point Program and Mantram Handbook. The readings emphasize selflessness and also the One Self of which we are all part.
The mantram, or the Holy Name, for most persons will be derived from their religion for its deep personal appeal. The writer recommends its frequent use-as a part of meditation, while walking, while falling asleep, while waiting. Furthermore, Easwaran recommends use of the mantram to curb habits such as smoking, drinking, or drug use.
Emphasis is placed on living in the present, thus releasing oneself from guilt over past action or anxiety about the future. Easwaran asserts that meditation lifts us “out of time into the eternal present.”
Some of the readings deal with death, which Easwaran sees as no struggle when we cease our wanting-of money, of pleasure, of all material things.
He advises that meditation may take a lifetime to learn-a lifetime “well spent.” -and warns against those who offer “instant enlightenment.” But we can aid ourselves in many ways-by exercise, which helps the body to feel light; by resisting cravings for food, smoking, drinking, drugs; by avoiding negative tendencies.
What the reader is likely to gain in working with this book is an increasing feeling of spiritual relationship with the author. In the last passage, that for December 31, the quotation (from St. Augustine) is on “eternal lie,” likening it to “hat moment of illumination which leaves us breathless” For Easwaran, this is the point at which he is “invisible” from the whole and can use all his capacities to alleviate suffering, to live for others, and therefore “to come to lie.”
-MARY JANE NEWCOMB