Tag Archives: George Leonard

Foolishness and The Kingdom of the Bad

stanczyk-court-jester

The archetype of the fool or the clown shows up in most every well-known story with a beginning, a middle and an end. This character appears in dramatic work in various forms from the “Wise Fool” of the Greek Tragedies to Shakespeare’s spritely Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Dori in Finding Nemo.

These “foolish” characters provide comic relief and a sense of conscience to the protagonist (as they do not follow society’s ways, are usually not the most fashionable, and always speak the truth). They invite us to wear masks — or to take off our masks and live a life free of labels and ideals. And they are usually a “lowly” character, and sometimes a blank slate, that will reveal the character of others based on how they themselves are treated. Sometimes an antagonist we thought was our friend will show their true colors by betraying or mistreating the fool, usually in the final act.

In Shakespeare and the Human Mystery, J. Phillip Newell writes, “The fool is calling us to be truly ourselves and points out the falseness of what we have become. He is not, however, over and against his hearers. Rather, he invites them to discover the fool within themselves. In All’s Well That Ends Well, when Paroles says that he has found the fool, the clown replies, “Did you find me in yourself, sir?”

In ancient Egypt (as early as 2400 BC), clowns served a socio-religious and psychological function in the court, with the role of priest and clown traditionally held by the same person.

In Native American traditions, the Trickster God is represented as Coyote, a sacred clown. During certain ceremonial performances, masks were made of clay and worn for each direction of the medicine wheel and a Heyoka (a mystic, a medicine man, an outsider) plays the role of the backwards clown, doing everything in reverse.

There is within Christian circles those known as “Holy Fools” or “Fools for Christ.” These are the ascetics, mystics, saints, outcasts. The Hindu equivalent would be Avadhuta (The Sanskrit word for people who “do not identify with their mind or body, names or forms, a person held to be pure consciousness.”). In Islam there are the Qalandariyya (whirling dervishes) and Malamatiyya (Sufi mystics with a staunch belief in self-blame).

The first card of the Major Arcana Tarot deck is that of The Fool. It shows him in all his youthful innocence stepping off a cliff and into the unknown without judgement, but also without wisdom. He is the embodiment of a new beginning. He is actively sacrificing his past. And he is represented by the number Zero. As George Leonard writes, zero is “the fertile void from which all creation springs, the state of emptiness that allows new things to come into being.” The fool represents what is known in Zen Buddhism as shoshin or “beginner’s mind,” the attitude that makes real learning possible. Continue reading

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The Birth of Ego, The Fall of Man

apple-ego-explosion

One of the key concepts in many religious traditions is the idea that man has fallen or broken away from God. It’s considered by some to be the “ascending” form of religion — where we reach up or return to a state of Oneness with the Divine, as opposed to “descending” forms of religion where God is present or manifest in Nature and heaven is on the ground at men’s feet. This state of “falling away” or brokenness is commonly illustrated with the idea of Original Sin, or as it is called in Tibetan Buddhism alaya-vijnana (translated as Store Consciousness or consciousness that “contains all the traces or impressions of the past actions and all good and bad future potentialities“). This is the birth of the ego and the point at which our mind itself starts to distance itself from its true (or original) nature.

We are born clean, perfect and brand new, filled with light and unwrapped for all the world to see. We are born without language, without memories, without bias and without prejudice. We are born fearless. It is the world around us that attempts to work its way inside our mind, bringing along with it the concepts (and in some cases contagious ideas) like fear and bias.

George Leonard in his book Mastery, writes that a baby learning language for the very first time exists in a state of playfulness, a state of nonsense — throwing every manner of random sound against the void — until certain sounds are positively reinforced by the community around them. If there was no positive reinforcement, language would not develop as it does. He also states that the opposite is true, that by trying to control or negatively reinforcing sounds created from this state of blissful awareness, we instill self-doubt and fear in the child, and slowly begin to chip away at this state of blissful awareness. This sense of playful exploration, of pure creativity and imagination is eroded away by those around us simply through the act of (sometimes unconscious) positive and negative reinforcement.

It is only when we reach the post-conventional stage of psychological development (adolescence into adulthood) that we have the opportunity to unlearn this conditioning.

There are those who read scripture and sacred texts literally (33% according to Pew Research). Those that think Jonah literally lived in the belly of a whale for three days or that Noah was able to corral two of every living animal onto a boat. And, there are those who think that a piece of fruit may have contained all the knowledge of the world. Picture an apple packed tightly with not only the sugary flesh of the fruit itself and all its nutrients — its DNA — but also with the entire alphabet of your respective language, the entire number line in both directions all the way to infinity, entire systems of knowledge like law and medicine, potential systems of knowledge (that didn’t yet exist) like physics and astronomy. There are those who believe that when Eve took a bite of the apple, it was this knowledge that infected her. That she now possessed a download of ethics — a framework for interpersonal relationships, when according to myth itself, interpersonal relationships beyond that of our two protagonists weren’t yet known. This moment according to scripture was a transgression of spiritual law, attempting to take knowledge from the tree, the source of life, from higher spiritual planes, from God himself and use it for human ends. However, there are hundreds of ways to interpret this scripture.

There are those who may read it politically, and as an attempt for the patriarchal structure of the time to control the existing (and still very much emerging) storehouses of knowledge in the world. There are those who may read it as a fable to their children, encouraging them not to overreach their boundaries or expectations or not to elevate themselves above their spiritual station or social class.

There are also those that, in an attempt to frame this story biologically, view it as partial at best when considering our homosexual, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers. Is this a story that they can identify with? And, if this is a partial picture of the biological diversity and sexual/gender identity — if it’s not “true” biologically, then what else might it be about? Maybe it’s the polarity of the male/female or masculine/feminine drives in all of us. Maybe it’s about the battle being waged by God and the devil over the souls of our illustrious couple in that garden paradise. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Some interpret all scripture figuratively. There are those that perceive the whale as a construct of Jonah’s unconscious mind or a symbol of something larger than himself. There are those that perceive the initial bite of that apple as the first appearance of what we have come to call Ego. Eve was immediately self-aware, and immediately perceived herself as something other, something other than perfect, something that needed work. And this is one of the many effects of the ego, it convinces us that we are not our true or original nature. It convinces us that our mind can fix it, that our mind is in control, that there is a “self” to be preserved in an impermanent world.

We must find a way to inoculate ourselves against these effects. Fear and self-doubt and attachment are all viruses of the mind and highly contagious. And unless we have in place a rigorous practice that is constantly renewing and strengthening our spiritual and psychological immune system, we are at risk of being infected by the idea that we are broken or sinful, that we are anything less than connected directly to God, anything less than apertures of light and energy and Christ Consciousness, of formless Buddha Mind, energy that as it evolves, assists God himself in becoming self-aware. Continue reading


A Brief History of Integral Spirituality

Matrimandir (Shrine to the Mother) at Auroville, India

1883 – German philosopher and critic, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), begins proposing, in Also sprach Zarathustra, that a new post-metaphysical, pro-body spirituality for the whole planet must be produced by people who have traversed nihilism, romanticism and relativism and discovered the valuing-principle common to all perspectives.

1906 – Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian philosopher and architect influenced by Goethe, Theosophy and Esoteric Cosmology, comments on the “integral evolution of man” during a lecture in Paris.

“The grandeur of Darwinian thought is not disputed, but it does not explain the integral evolution of man… So it is with all purely physical explanations, which do not recognise the spiritual essence of man’s being.”

– Rudolf Steiner (Eighteen Lectures delivered in Paris, France, May 25 to June 14, 1906)

1912 – Russian philosopher and journalist P.D. Ouspensky (1878-1947) publishes Tertium Organum. This book proposes to initiate a spiritual revival of humanity through the uniting of all disciplines and perspectives using a “higher logic” of both/and.

1914 – Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) publishes Synthesis of Yoga and The Integral Yoga, in which he intended to harmonize the paths of karma, jnana, and bhakti yoga as described in the Bhagavad Gita. It can also be considered a synthesis between Vedanta and Tantra, and even between Eastern and Western approaches to spirituality. Aurobindo also proposed a concentric hierarchy consisting of the physical, vital, mental and supramental bodies.

1914 – In Russia, Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968) began referring to the emergence of a future, spiritually-based integral society and began using phrases like “integral philosophy” and “integralist.”

1915 – Following his break with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) over spirituality and the collective unconscious, Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung (1875-1961) begins to record his experiments with trans-rational mysticism in his famous Red Book.

1922 – French philosopher and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) introduces the concept of the “noosphere” (an emerging layer of consciousness that envelops the Earth) in his Cosmogenesis. According to Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945), the noosphere is the third stage in the earth’s development, after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life). Just as the emergence of life fundamentally transformed the geosphere, the emergence of human cognition will fundamentally transform the biosphere.

1922 – G.I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) sets up his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man outside Paris. It is an internationally renown spiritual training facility which deals with multiple lines of development and perspectival multiplicity of the human psyche. It employs a special language organized by “evolution” and “relativity.”

1926 – The Mother (Mirra Alfassa, 1878-1973) becomes the spiritual leader of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Auroville, India.

1940 – Indra Sen (1903-1994), a student and devotee of Sri Aurobindo, first coins the term “Integral Psychology” (contrasted with Western Psychology) and develops themes of “integral culture” and “integral man.”

1945 – British writer Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) releases The Perennial Philosophy, an attempt to present the “highest common factor” of all theologies by assembling passages from the writings of saints and prophets who approached a direct spiritual knowledge of the Divine.

1949 The Ever-Present Origin is published by Swiss linguist and philosopher, Jean Gebser (1905-1973), describing human history as a series of mutations in consciousness. The book introduces the idea of “structures of consciousness” – archaic, magical, mythical, mental and integral/aperspectival.

1951 – Theologian and Stanford University Professor Frederick Spiegelberg (1897-1994) along with British-born poet philosopher Alan Watts (1915-1973) reach out to Sri Aurobindo in India to recommend someone “well versed in Eastern and Western philosophies with a deep knowledge of integral yoga” to help them found the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. Aurobindo appoints Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri (1913-1975) to travel to San Francisco. Integral Spirituality is officially planted in the United States.

“Spiegelberg’s phrase “the religion of no religion” had deep existential roots. It was based on a mystical encounter with the natural world he experienced as a young theology student. He was walking in a wheat field on a bright day when, quite suddenly, his ego vanished and what he calls the Self appeared. Through this altered perspective, he began to see that God was shining through everything in the world, that everything was divine, that there was nothing but holiness. As he reveled in this revelation, he came around a corner and found himself confronting a gray church. He was horrified. How, he asked himself, could such a building claim to hold something more sacred, more divine, than what he had just experienced in the poppies, birds, and sky of the now divinized cosmos? It all seemed preposterous, utterly preposterous, to him. From the theological scandal of this initial altered state, Spiegelberg developed and theorized what was essentially (or non-essentially) an apophatic mystical theology that approaches religious language, symbol, and myth as non-literal projective expressions of some deeper metaphysical truth that, paradoxically, is simultaneously immanent and transcendent—a kind of dialectical or mystical humanism, if you will. It was just such a comparative mystical theology grounded in the natural world, and just such a critical but deep engagement with the religious traditions of the world, that inspired Murphy and his colleagues in their new venture.” – Jeffrey Kripal, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion

1955 – Teilhard de Chardin posthumously publishes the controversial The Phenomenon of Man. Borrowing from Huxley, Teilhard describes humankind as “evolution becoming conscious of itself.” The book also introduces the concept of the Omega Point – a culmination of Supreme Consciousness.

1957 – Alan Watts publishes The Way of Zen, a synthesis of Eastern and Western spiritualites as well as General Semantics and Cybernetics.

1960 – Teilhard de Chardin releases The Divine Milieu to synthesize theology and science and demonstrate that “secular (scientific) work was an integral element of creation.”

1962 – Influenced by Huxley’s studies of “human potentiality,” Michael Murphy (1930-), Dick Price (1930-1985) and Spiegelberg establish the Esalen Institute (a retreat center and intentional community) on 120 acres of the Big Sur coast in California.

1967 – Hungarian-born author and journalist Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) introduces the concept of holons (something that is simultaneously a whole and a part) in The Ghost in the Machine. Holons exist as self-contained wholes in relation to their sub-ordinate parts, and dependent parts when considered from the inverse direction. Continue reading