I read and enjoyed the interview with Joseph Chilton Pearce [Issue 117]. For the most part it is stuff that many women know with their bodies and hearts. But as soon as I came across the name Muktananda and realized that he was Pearce’s guru, my blood started to boil. I know, from reputable sources, that Muktananda was no saint. He was all too human and was involved in hidden sexual relationships with young women. Pearce quotes Muktananda’s successor Swami Chidvilasananda: “ . . . It’s all a single indivisible unit; you can’t deal with matters of the spirit without dealing with the physical process through which the spirit manifests.” This sounds good to me and I ask Pearce, in that spirit, to address the issue of Muktananda’s behavior.
I’m also struck these days by the confusion and intrigue around Rajneesh. If someone can provoke extraordinary experiences in another, is that the sign of a guru? Why do we have such an addiction to the extraordinary? Is not discriminating awareness a valuable, if ordinary, and sometimes tedious, quality to nuture in ourselves and in our children? Why do we so badly need to think someone else is special?
When the Zen Patriarch said that the Great Way is not difficult if we only cease to cherish opinions, did he mean to stop having opinions altogether or simply not to make religious beliefs out of them?
My own opinion is that there is confusion about the idea of the guru. Do saints screw little girls? Do I cherish my opinion that they do not? No one can negate Pearce’s experiences of “essential oneness” but I feel funny about all the fancy things he says about children. Is it not OK for kids to watch “Sesame Street” but acceptable to follow the spiritual teachings of a child seducer? Yikes.
The interview with Stephen Gaskin [Issue 117] was wonderful. I can empathize with the people who left because they felt they were doing a disproportionate amount of giving. One needs to feel appreciated for one’s abilities, not put in a position of feeling used. An ongoing lack of reciprocity for one’s love and care can burn out even the most giving hearts over time. One wants a cause to devote one’s committment to without the nagging suspicion that one cares more than the people who are directly affected.
I was not disillusioned to learn that The Farm had and has problems, like any other human settlement. The fact that so many people left doesn’t change the essence of the place. A dandelion looks very pretty with its halo of fuzz but the day comes when the seeds take off and become hundreds of little cluster bombs all over the landscape. The rhythm of the universe is to gather together, then burst apart in endless succession.
I believe in The Farm; it has for years been a ghostly presence in my mind, one of those energy centers like Findhorn where Something is Really Happening, not quite as mythical as Shangri-La, but at least a place where life is lived sanely and with consciousness. I’ve never been there but I’m sure glad it’s there.
I just read Volume One, the collection of Stephen Gaskin’s Sunday morning talks at The Farm in the late 70s, and found a great deal of wisdom that is applicable to my immediate concerns. As far as I’m concerned, The Farm is alive and always will be.
Your silvery appreciation of the difficulties and distances most of us face along the spiritual way (“The Writing on the Wall,” Issue 120) put me in mind of . . .
Sitting with a new friend to whom I mentioned casually that I was interested in Zen. She, an ex-Catholic, asked, “What is Zen?” I said it was a practice some called meditation: “It’s a little like asking the question, ‘Who is God?’ ” I said. She responded promptly, “I am God.” It was a very good answer and I said so. “Now,” I added, “there’s only one more question: who are you?” She remained silent.
Just about everyone I know has spent some time sniffing along the periphery of spiritual life. In different ways and for different reasons. Some read, some write, some talk, some think. Some look to salvation while others wish to avoid damnation. They poke and prod and involve themselves in what I think of as the advertising aspects of spiritual endeavor . . . thinking, feeling, believing, hoping. As far as it goes, perhaps it is fine.
But the ones who will take the first step are rare. Ramakrishna used to say, “If you take one step towards God, God takes 100 steps towards you.” Ah, but that one step. A single step may seem to be the one that topples you off a very high cliff. Death lurks below smiling the smile of death, seeming to say, “You may have been a hotshot before with all those beliefs and practices and goodness, but I am in the driver’s seat here.” One step is not the same as sweet words, sweet reason, sweet praise. One step is one step. Put up or shut up. It is the deed, the act, the moment — one moment of 100 percent. Heart, mind, soul, marrow and blood conjoined. A single step, but the one who took the step cannot be named. A friend of mine, an ex-priest, once said to me, “I have finished with the eternal.” Taking a single step is to finish with the eternal, to finish with the self.
Like walking, one step leads to the next, but who will take the first step? Not the 108th step — a lot of people want to be the teacher before they have been students, the pilot before they even get in the plane — but this first step. A nanosecond of time; a no-time of first step.
Like walking, taking the first real step requires practice. Practice requires patience, courage, and cheerfulness. Patience, courage, and cheerfulness are often acquired by facing impatience, cowardice, and self-pity. Facing them over and over and over again. “I can’t bear it,” comes the scream. But the wonderful thing about saying “I can’t bear it” is that what you posit proves the opposite. Saying “I can’t bear it” means in reality “I can bear it.” If you really couldn’t bear it there would be no ability to say “I can’t bear it.” So, in the midst of what we call reality and what in fact is unreality, we find reality obvious as a dandelion.
Driving to work as meditation, paying bills as prayer, pissing as Godhead, quoting scripture as goodness, humming as peace — when people believe such things, it is easy to understand why the ancient teachers were secretive and why the western penchant for tell-all and talk-it-up is like a shadow of a shadow, inconsequential and corrupt.
This corruption really is corrupt. And yet, it is from within this corruption exactly that we must take our first true step. In practice, strength is gathered for that single step and the next and the next. There is no next step if there is no first step. Taking a step when living as a marble statue among marble statues may seem impossible. Extracting a sip of milk from an ocean of surrounding water may seem impossible. Recognizing the one who can bear it, the one who has finished with the eternal, may seem impossible. Not pretending may seem impossible.
And yet it is not “possible” and “impossible” that are important. What is important is this first step. Taking it. Doing it. The point is, do something. That’s not so hard, is it? You’ve done a thing or two in the past.
Three more issues of THE SUN arrived recently, at the end of a particularly frustrating day, and brought me such blessed encouragement. It’s hard to convey my appreciation through words. I can’t help but feel that there is much more at work here than simply a generous editor giving an indigent convict a free subscription. Your kindness is something I will carry in my heart for many years. Perhaps our paths may cross someday. It would be a pleasure to thank you personally.
I’ve highly recommended THE SUN to anyone with the spirit to appreciate it. A sister in Kansas has gotten a subscription for herself and one for a friend. We are now able to discuss the articles by mail. I plan to petition my mom for a copy of A Bell Ringing In The Empty Sky.
May you have much success with the magazine and with your entire life.
Due to an unfortunate failure to make a Final Edit of my recent “Letters From The Road,” I gave the misleading impression that the area of a circle is r2. Of course, it’s πr2. If any fourth graders have flunked tests as a result of this error, they have my profound apology.