“THIS BUILDING makes me drunk,” Andrew Harvey says. We’re standing in the middle of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, a century-old experiment in sacred architecture in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Oak Park. Autumn light pours through the glass ceiling onto cream walls, dark wood, and muted carpet. The temple has the solemn simplicity of a Zen shrine or a New England meetinghouse. It was this project, Wright said, that made him realize the heart of a building is its space rather than its walls. “I love this man,” Harvey says. “This is unity consciousness.”
Harvey is a renegade in the world of the sacred. An Englishman raised in India, he has spent much of his life attempting to unite the spiritual traditions of East and West. And like the brilliant but acerbic Wright, he has stirred his share of controversy. In his book The Sun at Midnight (Tarcher), Harvey attacks the guru system as corrupt, using his own former teacher Mother Meera as an example. His openness about being gay has rattled many in the largely closeted religious world, and he has even taken the Dalai Lama to task for his stance on homosexuality. Harvey has little patience with what he calls the popular “vulgarization” of ancient spiritual traditions, from yoga and Tantra to Buddhism and Christianity. He says, “A lot of people prefer the marzipan mysticism of the New Age,” which predicts that a change in consciousness will occur by “good vibrations.”
With his unruly hair, British accent, and engaging manner, Harvey seems more enthusiastic schoolboy than spiritual bête noire. Though fifty-five years old, he charges through Wright’s masterpiece with youthful vitality. Afterward we walk back to his cozy third-floor apartment, which he calls “my treehouse.” Adorning the walls are a Black Madonna from Venice, a Tibetan tanka tapestry, and a page from a Persian manuscript.
Harvey’s curiosity about faiths of all sorts began when he was a boy living in India, which had then only recently shaken off the yoke of British colonialism. Though sectarian violence wracked the nation, Harvey describes his household as having been a place of tolerance where “everyone felt free to worship in whatever way they wanted.” His English parents were tolerant Protestants; his Catholic nurse imbued him with a love of Mary; the Hindu servants would take him to their temple to hear stories of Krishna; and the family’s Muslim driver spoke of the greatness of Allah. One night, after his parents had left for a dinner party, six-year-old Andrew sat on the balcony and watched as their inebriated cook played a small drum until he was drenched with sweat, then began to chant in a strange tongue. Intrigued and frightened, young Andrew asked the man if he was all right. The cook explained that he was thanking God. “God is everything,” he said. “God is everywhere.” It dawned on Harvey then that “I could be with God directly and talk to God directly whenever I wanted to.” He also concluded that each person in his multicultural house was worshiping the same God.
Harvey spent his school years in England, eventually attending Oxford University, where he studied the theme of madness in Shakespeare and Erasmus and at twenty-one became the youngest Fellow ever admitted to Oxford’s All Souls College, a prestigious humanities-research institution. Though his intellect was well-fed, Harvey felt alone, despairing, and even suicidal. In 1977 he left Oxford to return to India and found his way to the remote Himalayan region of Ladakh, where he met Tibetan Buddhist sage Thuksey Rinpoche. Harvey’s book about the experience, A Journey in Ladakh (Mariner Books), won critical acclaim for its portrayal of one of the last traditional Tibetan Buddhist societies.
Harvey then moved to Paris and began an exploration of Sufism — the mystical tradition of Islam — and the poems of thirteenth-century mystic Jalaluddin Rumi. That led him to write The Way of Passion (Tarcher), in which he describes Rumi’s work as “strange, fabulous, ornate, baroque, and tremendously mysterious.” Other works on Rumi followed. Along the way Harvey became an ardent follower of Mother Meera, an Indian woman he heralded as an incarnation of the divine. He broke with her in 1993 after she asked him to forsake his male lover. (This point is disputed by Mother Meera’s supporters.) Since then Harvey has denounced her and other gurus as phonies more concerned with money, sex, and power than with matters of the spirit.
Shortly before his father’s death in 1997 Harvey had a mystical experience of Christ that renewed his fascination with Jesus and Mary. He took a provocative look at Jesus as a radical mystic in Son of Man (Tarcher) and explored the divine feminine in Return of the Mother (Tarcher).
Having encountered the limitations of both gurus and romantic love (he is no longer with the man he married in 1994), Harvey is devoting himself to melding spiritual disciplines with activist efforts in order to promote peace and justice. He calls the concept “sacred activism” and envisions “an army of practical visionaries and active mystics who work in every field and in every arena to transform the world.” His vision is wildly ambitious and at times feels both messianic and apocalyptic. But sitting at a Frank Lloyd Wright–designed table in his living room and listening to him describe sacred activism’s potential, I found his enthusiasm hard to resist.
Lawler: Why are you so critical of organized religions, including even their mystical aspects?
Harvey: Religions keep alive fantasies and dogmas, and what passes for mystical instruction most of the time is folly. There is a horrific way in which people use spirituality to sign off from the ordinary decency of the heart. I’ve been walking with famous Sufis who tell me I’m crazy for stopping and talking with beggars in the street. One said, “Why are you giving that beggar money? He’s just going to drink with it.” I said my responsibility was to help, and the beggar’s responsibility was to look after himself. I couldn’t force him to spend the money on food, but I also couldn’t pass the man and not give him something. If you’re not capable of being gracious and recognizing the pain another person is in, you’re not a spiritual practitioner.
Lawler: How did your parents come to live in India?
Harvey: My father’s family went to India in the 1820s, and my mother’s family moved there in the 1920s. My mother still lives in south India, in a little cottage surrounded by jacaranda trees filled with monkeys, and she runs a charity for disabled children. I asked her recently what she was going to do on her eightieth birthday, and she said she was going to throw a party for the children. She has a huge heart.
My father had a deep sense of justice. He was a police officer and was in the Imperial Service Order as a young man. I went to see him when he was dying in 1997. We hadn’t ever quarreled, but we’d lived such different lives. When we spoke about Jesus, however, I realized he was a mystic: he trusted absolutely, surrendered, and prayed every day. He had never told me any of this, because men don’t talk about that sort of thing. I realized that I’d been roaming the world, looking for sages, and there had been a real sage right there at home, reading the Daily Telegraph, and I had missed him. But I didn’t miss him in the end. I think my father’s sense of justice and service, combined with my mother’s wild heart, is what has given me my passion.
Lawler: How did your father’s death renew your connection to Christ?
Harvey: On the Sunday before he died, I went to church. It was the Feast of Christ the King, and this roly-poly Indian priest gave a simple sermon in which he said that Christ is the mystical king of the world, not because of his miracles, but because he sacrificed everything and he loved and believed beyond reason. When the priest had finished speaking, I looked up at the crucifix, and it came alive.
There was this torrential flow of molten fire between Jesus and me. I can only describe what happened as: he took a knife and slashed open my heart. I felt I was going to die, because of the ferocious violence of his love. It was ecstatic and blissful, and it was terror itself. I saw Jesus in his glory, but still with the wounds, because the awakened state contains the shattered state. You’re not sprung free of wound and heartbreak; rather, they are deepened but contained within a vaster consciousness.
Then I went outside, and there was this desperate young man with no legs and no arms, and I looked into his eyes and saw the same Christ that I had seen on the cross. I lifted him out of the puddle, gave him whatever money I had, and made sure he got some help. As I was staring at him, I heard this terrifying voice say, “You’ve been playing with your mystical experiences. You have used your grace to inflate your own ego, to write books, and to become famous. Don’t you understand that this is obscene? You must do everything you can to speak up for those who have no voice and to rouse people to divine service. You have to give yourself over to that.”
It was scalding. I felt seen, stripped naked, but also inspired and empowered.
Lawler: Was that the start of your concept of sacred activism?
Harvey: That was the beginning. I’ve always loved that quotation by French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” Sacred activism is the fusion of the mystic’s passion for God with the activist’s passion for justice, creating a third fire, which is the burning sacred heart that longs to help, preserve, and nurture every living thing.
Lawler: So mysticism alone is not enough? It must merge with activism?
Harvey: All mystical systems are addicted to transcending this reality. This addiction is part of the reason why the world is being destroyed. The monotheistic religions honor an off-planet God and would sacrifice this world and its attachments to the adoration of that God. But the God I met was both immanent and transcendent. This world is not an illusion, and the philosophies that say it is are half-baked half-truths. In an authentic mystical experience, the world does disappear and reveal itself as the dance of the divine consciousness. But then it reappears, and you see that everything you are looking at is God, and everything you’re touching is God. This vision completely shatters you.
We are so addicted, either to materialism or to transcending material reality, that we don’t see God right in front of us, in the beggar, the starving child, the brokenhearted woman; in our friend; in the cat; in the flea. We miss it, and in missing it, we allow the world to be destroyed.
Jesus . . . took a knife and slashed open my heart. I felt I was going to die, because of the ferocious violence of his love. It was ecstatic and blissful, and it was terror itself.
Lawler: How does a mystic become an activist? It seems an oxymoron.
Harvey: The mystics as we know them will be praying as the last tree is cut down. They are junkies of ecstasy and bliss, and they’re hooked into the IV of their own self-created mystical experiences. There are too many bliss bunnies running around, presenting the divine as a kind of cabaret singer in hot pants, available for any kind of fantasy you may have. Then there are the activists, who are noble and righteous and give their lives to their cause, but they are divided in consciousness. They demonize others and often burn out. Neither mystic nor activist balances transcendence and immanence, heart and mind, soul and body, presence and action.
Lawler: But don’t many traditions — from Christianity to twelve-step programs — consider service a spiritual necessity?
Harvey: Yes, it’s essential to all the major traditions, from Buddhism to Judaism. In Hinduism it’s what the self does when it recognizes itself in all reality. In shamanism, being in tune with nature leads to serving all living beings. Service is the central message of Christianity, though it’s been lost for the most part.
Sacred activism isn’t anything new, but we need to bring an urgency and intensity to this message at this moment, because there is a worldwide addiction to money and power and a worldwide depression that affects even people who claim to be religious but have secretly given up on the human race.
Service, as it’s usually understood, is not going to be enough. Working at soup kitchens, helping stray animals, looking after old women, sitting by the deathbeds of young men who are dying of AIDS — all these are honorable actions, but we have to go farther. What’s required now is inspired, radical action on every level.
Lawler: Can a mayor, a congressperson, a CEO of a major corporation be a sacred activist?
Harvey: If that person is prepared to do some dangerous and disruptive things, yes. I don’t think a CEO could be a sacred activist if his or her company was strip-mining or spreading toxic waste. A sacred activist would risk everything to transform those policies.
Lawler: If we want to move beyond the idea of individual service, it will require organization. But can you organize mystics?
Harvey: Absolutely you can. The great revolution that has to happen for the world to be saved will be organized through networks of grace. Look at South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a court in which victims of apartheid could give testimony and perpetrators of violence could request immunity. Look at how the people of Rwanda have come together. I am working with a child soldier from Sierra Leone who was tortured and raped. He wants to go back to his country and bring together all the people who went through the same experience, so that they can mourn together and help each other and use their tragic experiences to remake their country.
For people to come together, they must first be broken by what is happening. When people allow the horror and pain and sorrow of this time to go through their heart like a spear, the thought of hiding away in their private devotions becomes repulsive. They need to turn their love into action.
Lawler: So this will not be a hierarchical approach?
Harvey: No, the Divine Mother doesn’t like top-down organization, because it is often authoritarian and patriarchal and driven by an agenda. The kind of organization I’m describing is compassionate, egalitarian, and driven by the heart. When people devoted to a cause come together and pour out their creativity, “mother power” is born. Grace comes down, creativity flourishes, and amazing things happen.
Lawler: Creative, passionate people don’t always agree. How can sacred activists work out their differences?
Harvey: If sacred activism becomes a normal way of functioning, there will be more sensitivity, clarity, and wisdom, and less divisiveness. If people differ, they will be willing to go through a process of consensus, and once a decision is reached, their hearts will be united. We have seen glimpses of this. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to turn large numbers of civil-rights activists away from violence and toward reconciliation and peace. Many African Americans thought he was crazy at first, but he convinced them by personal example and indefatigable commitment. The same is true of Gandhi. Many Indians thought he wasn’t standing up to the British. And some Tibetans believed the Dalai Lama was soft on the Chinese, but they’ve been convinced by his example.
Lawler: Yet there are compassionate environmentalists at odds over whether to support nuclear power. We’re human, and we get attached to our particular solutions. How do you mediate that?
Harvey: Painfully and slowly, as it has always been done. All divine visions are hard to embody. They require hard work. You have to keep looking at your own shadow — and sacred activists have two shadows: they have the shadow of the mystic, longing to escape into the light and leave the world behind; and they have the shadow of the activist, which is full of denunciation and divisiveness and anger. But if you examine those two shadows long enough, something amazing happens: the mystic’s shadow gets purified by the activist’s, and vice versa.
Lawler: How do these shadows manifest in you?
Harvey: I wouldn’t be so disturbed by the mystic’s addiction to transcendence if I didn’t know something about it. I have felt that shadow in myself that says, Only God is real. The rest is illusion. It comes from a psychological desire to escape the complexities of my past. On the activist side, I understand how easy it is to project my own failings onto others, to demonize the CEOs and George W. Bush and not recognize that every time I catch a plane to go and talk about saving the environment, I am polluting. Every time I think of President Bush as a psychopath who doesn’t deserve to live, I’m committing a kind of murder.
Lawler: Author Anne Lamott writes about the necessity of loving George Bush.
Harvey: She puts an image of him on her altar. I’ve been trying to love him myself. I understand the temptation of anger. I am a passionate person, and passion’s shadow is anger — ferocious and lacerating. Though I feel sacred activism needs the power of anger to fuel its work, we also need to purify and transmute that anger.
There are too many bliss bunnies running around, presenting the divine as a kind of cabaret singer in hot pants, available for any kind of fantasy you may have.
Lawler: Do you trust your passions to guide you?
Harvey: No, the more passionate you are, the more you need to cultivate passion’s opposite: deep inner peace. The kind of passion I try to embody is a sacred one, purified by discipline and devotion. Rumi describes the Godhead as “infinite passion arising out of infinite peace.”
Lawler: So, how goes your effort to love George Bush?
Harvey: A year or so ago I had a series of powerful dreams in which I was alone with him. He told me the whole story of his upbringing, his drunkenness, his loneliness and confusion. I felt compassion for the man. I saw that behind his appalling arrogance is fragility; behind his addiction to fundamentalism is a hunger to feel worthwhile. I also saw that a movement decrying him cannot work, because it is decrying the part of itself that voted him in.
At the end of the dream I was given a vision of many activists outside the White House expressing love and forgiveness toward the president and offering to embrace him as a brother. If this were to happen, it would be an act of spiritual sanity.
Lawler: How do you practice such shadow work in your own life?
Harvey: I use the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen. You start by separating yourself into two different beings: the biographical being, buffeted about by the storms of karma; and the Buddha or Christ who lives inside all of us. I sit in front of the mirror. The person looking in is the Buddha, the Christ. The person in the mirror is Andrew. I look at Andrew and feel his loneliness and pain and worry and distress and selfishness and addiction, and I imagine all of it as a ball of black smoke that comes out of Andrew’s stomach. I, the person looking in, take that smoke into my heart and dissolve it and send back love and peace to the person in the mirror.
To practice tonglen for Bush or anyone you’re having difficulty with in your life, you imagine the person or people and try to understand where their actions are coming from. You pray to be given insight into the origin of their rage or cruelty or madness or desire to destroy you. Instead of reacting to it, you send back profound love and compassion, and you pray for their enlightenment and liberation from suffering. Then you imagine all the things that you want to have yourself — friends, enough money, loving support on every level, illumination — and you wish them for the other person. If millions of people were doing this practice every day for the CEOs who are destroying the environment, great shifts would take place. Such sacred activists would be dangerous people, just as Jesus was.
Anyone working at the intersection of mystical faith and political action will tell you that there are powers that do not want this form of activism to be born. As soon as you become sincere in this path, you are going to meet strong opposition. Sacred activists need to be awake to the existence of evil. This is why Jesus said: “I am sending you out as sheep among the wolves. You must combine the wisdom of the serpent and the innocence of the dove.”
Lawler: For more than a decade you have warned of the impending end of civilization. Why are you so apocalyptic?
Harvey: I am not a doomsday prophet, but I do see great extinction and death on the horizon, and anybody who doesn’t needs new glasses. I also see that death is a precondition of birth. If you’ve been through a personal dark night of the soul, as I have, you realize that destruction is not necessarily the end but can also be the beginning. When a false self is stripped away, a new kind of consciousness arises. We are experiencing the pangs of birth, and sacred activism is the birthing force.
There are amazing scientific advances taking place today, from new fuels to discoveries in physics and astronomy. There are even hopeful signs in the media. Look at the success of former vice-president Al Gore’s global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth. I think Gore is too optimistic about how corporations could help, but his achievement is monumental and took immense courage. And the Internet is a revolutionary development. The organizations of sacred activists I’m describing will be mobilized by the Internet, beneath the radar of the corporations and governments.
Lawler: The Internet has also done wonders for fundamentalist movements.
Harvey: I’m not a naive supporter of the Internet. It depends on our degree of consciousness. It’s like a vast Rorschach test of our various levels of confusion. But it can disseminate information about real crises, and that’s a hopeful sign.
Another hopeful sign comes from nonviolent movements. Gandhi had his egomaniacal side, but, thanks to his example, British rule in India was unseated without mass violence. Martin Luther King Jr. prevented what could have been a bloodbath with his moral authority. And the Dalai Lama, in the face of overwhelming oppression, maintains compassion toward the very people who are destroying his nation.
Lawler: Yet you have had some harsh words for the Dalai Lama.
Harvey: Of course. He has done some pretty dodgy things, like support the nuclear tests in India and make homophobic statements. But I love him. He is human like the rest of us. We should be grateful for his compassion, for his prescient stance on the environment, and for the ways in which he has tried to bring science and religion together. It pains me that he has made homophobic remarks — which he has since backed away from a bit — but it doesn’t diminish his accomplishments in any way. Mother Teresa had a theology that would make Thomas Aquinas wince, but you can’t deny the power of her example or her dedication to the poor. This woman spent fifty years aiding lepers in the streets of Calcutta.
We have to recognize the holiness and beauty of what these leaders have done while also embracing their fragile humanity. We’ve got to stop projecting our own unlived divinity onto other people and then shattering it when they don’t fulfill our fantasy.
Lawler: Humans throughout the ages have sought to transform themselves and the world. Why is this moment so special?
Harvey: The transformation is taking place at an extraordinary rate. Thirty years ago an editor told me that no one gave a damn about Tibet and suggested I write a travel book on Ireland or Iceland instead. Since then, Tibet has become a high-profile cause in the West. Look at Rumi’s explosion in popularity around the world. He speaks about mysticism in language that everybody can understand: the language of someone drunk on passion, on love. Transformative texts are being made widely available precisely at the time of the world’s greatest need: Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christian mysticism.
But this birth cannot come merely from reading books and feeling inspired. I’m working on a mystical practice I call “heart yoga” with a yoga teacher in British Columbia, and we’ve written a book that’s coming out in 2009. We are trying to fuse yoga with divine-light meditation and visualization. Yoga’s fundamental identity is mystical, but that has been lost in the narcissistic, self-absorbed practices that pass for yoga in the West.
Lawler: Isn’t there a shadow side to this mix-and-match approach to mysticism?
Harvey: Everything has a shadow side. Just as the Internet can be a tool for pedophiles and Nazis, these practices can provide entertainment for bored socialites who want to appear spiritual. But I do these practices myself, and they help. I teach them to activists, who are often skeptical about mysticism, because they’ve seen religion used to support regressive causes. But once they’ve experienced the practices, they realize what amazing tools they are.
I believe there is a source from which all religions come, and all the different traditions have different ways of connecting with that source. You just have to select practices that really work for you.
Lawler: Take what you want and leave the rest?
Harvey: No, it’s not what you want, but what really works for you. I love to visualize, but some people are not strong on visualization. I sometimes use the music of Bach as a way of entering the divine, but Bach might drive you nuts. Experiment in the laboratory of your own self. I recommend that people combine several types of spiritual practice in their lives. And we seem to need body practices too. To be a sacred activist, we need to be mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically able to contain the divine energies. So little is being done to help people get physically strong. Most activists I know are depleted and exhausted, because they don’t have ways of staying aligned with their divine energy. Tai chi and sacred massage and Tantric sexuality are all important.
Lawler: How do you intend to spread the word about sacred activism?
Harvey: I’m opening the Institute of Sacred Activism later this year. The first project will be to create a global curriculum for sacred activism. We are going to bring together teachers, scientists, activists, and environmentalists — along with some heads of corporations and religious leaders — to boil down the essential wisdom about spiritual paths, spiritual action, and systems of oppression.
Whether or not this enterprise succeeds, it is the only thing I can find that’s worth doing. You have to be able to gamble for love, Rumi says. God is in love with the mad gamblers. Anyone who doesn’t want to risk his or her life for love, get out of the room! If you can gamble for the sheer pleasure of giving everything for the divine, then you’ll be graced with a sense of meaning, purpose, and joy that nothing can take away.
Lawler: You have spoken out strongly against gurus, yet you speak fondly of teachers. What’s the difference between the two?
Harvey: A teacher is always also a student of the path. The guru often claims to be the finished embodiment of the truth. This is folly. Teachers are fearless about what they know but also open to what they can learn. I met Bede Griffiths, a Catholic monk living in India, when he was eighty-five. He was a humble person who asked extraordinary questions and was attentive to other people. He would guide students rather than play guru. After my time with him, every posturing guru seemed to me an ignoramus.
Lawler: Why is there such a rise in fundamentalism in all faiths?
Harvey: Terror of modernization; the collapse of sacred values; the precariousness of modern life; the godless materialism that is spreading like cholera. By the end of the nineteenth century, most mystical traditions had been destroyed or hidden. The Islamic authorities had persecuted the Sufis. The Tibetans were hiding out in the Himalayas. The Vedantic Hindus were considered nutty by the ruling colonial powers. The esoteric aspect of Christianity had almost been annihilated in the sixteenth century. All that religion had left to offer people who hungered for wisdom was dogma.
Lawler: Yet there were groups like the Shakers who were not backward dogmatists. They also weren’t Luddites afraid of modernism. They invented the clothespin and the washing machine.
Harvey: The Shakers were like that because they were not allowed to make love.
Lawler: Isn’t the idea of channeling your sexual energy into something other than personal pleasure an aspect of many mystical traditions?
Harvey: That’s true. But semistarved celibates with blissful expressions are not going to get strong and challenge a society. There’s another way of looking at sex and spirituality: the Tantric vision, which combines the esoteric and the erotic. It threatens the hierarchies and the elites, because you can’t police people who have discovered divine bliss.
Lawler: For many, Tantra has been reduced to directions for better sex.
Harvey: The term “Tantra” refers to a whole set of disciplines, of which divine sexuality is only one, that help us come into union with the divine. In the West, however, the sexual aspect of Tantra has been overemphasized and vulgarized. Immature people with sexual hang-ups use it as an excuse for orgiastic self-indulgence. Most books that claim to be on Tantra are sexual-gymnastics manuals that have nothing to do with lovemaking as a direct connection to the divine.
It’s like feasting: you don’t feast all the time; you can’t. Tantra is divine love in action, and never just about pleasure and indulgence. It’s always about ceremony and ritual and profound respect and surrender. Little has been written about ancient Tantric systems. It is a whispered lineage for people who have attained the emotional, physical, and spiritual maturity to deal with its explosive truths. The real Tantra can’t be spoken about because it needs to be experienced. It has to be done in sacred ways, and it can easily be misused. It’s very dangerous. The divine feminine — which is the essence of Tantra — has tremendous power.
As with yoga, this culture has taken a sublime, complicated mystical system, designed to birth the divine, and turned it into a form of decadent entertainment. This culture could turn Christ’s Sermon on the Mount into a Muppet musical.
By the end of the nineteenth century, most mystical traditions had been destroyed or hidden. . . . All that religion had left to offer people who hungered for wisdom was dogma.
Lawler: Speaking of Christianity, in Son of Man you quote many Gnostic texts. Yet the Gnostics — early Christians who emphasized knowledge as the source of salvation — were infamous opponents of the physical body and the material realm.
Harvey: Not all of them. There are two strains of Gnosticism: one that offers a passionate understanding of divine identity, and another that focuses on the transfiguration of the body. The Gnostics were complicated. I focus on those who talked about the mystical role of the sacred marriage, such as in logion 22 of the Gospel of Thomas. Christ’s first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding, an erotic act. He was turning ordinary desire into desire for the ecstatic divine, which is the source of love energy.
His teaching has nothing to do with the denial of the body. How could it? His final sign of divinity was the resurrection. The Christ consciousness is a revolutionary force, because it is total love: embodied, focused, conscious, and radical, all at once. That’s sacred activism at its highest. That’s why the authorities couldn’t stand Christ: he wasn’t going to go off and be some willowy celibate, and he wasn’t going to be a corporate whore.
Lawler: So you don’t believe Christ was a lifelong celibate, as he has been portrayed?
Harvey: I’m certain that Christ was not celibate, and I can’t imagine any Jewish man of his time thinking celibacy was a worthwhile goal. The source of this false belief is the damaging split between body and soul. How could the creator of a new consciousness exclude from his life the very process that allows creation to continue?
Lawler: So Christ consciousness is not about leaving the body.
Harvey: No, it’s about arriving in the body. It’s a voyage of self-discovery, of spirit finding itself in ever-darker recesses of matter and transforming the matter into spirit-matter.
Lawler: So it brings consciousness to matter?
Harvey: It is waking the hidden consciousness within matter. There is a mind within matter that is dormant, and it needs the kiss of divine light to awaken it.
Lawler: Like Sleeping Beauty.
Harvey: Exactly. She’s lying under the veil, asleep, and needs the handsome prince of the light to awaken her. In Hinduism, Shiva’s function is to awaken the dormant Shakti, which is the divine feminine force. Yoga is about the creation of what I call the “golden body.” There have been few who have reached that point. You can see it in the Hindu mystic Aurobindo; he began his life with a dark complexion, but in later photographs his skin is burning gold. This golden body is able to endure, to withstand transformations, and to work with passion and efficiency. That’s why I put so much emphasis on body disciplines.
Lawler: Isn’t the transformation painful? Isn’t this a theme of Rumi’s poetry?
Harvey: Yes, he writes, “I died a thousand, thousand times, but my heart rose like a warrior from the sea.” Rumi’s poetry is full of screams of annihilation, which is one reason why it’s so powerful, and so helpful when you’re having that experience; you know that someone has been there before you and is there with you, and he can help you through it by giving you a sense of where it’s heading.
I went through that process for years and am still going through some of it. I clung to Rumi’s poetry as if it were a life raft, because I knew it described what was happening to me: the rending of the self, the crucifixion of the self. It is devastating. You think you’re dying, and you are going to be destroyed unless you’re lucky enough to meet Saint John of the Cross or Rumi. The mystics who have been through the dark night have the deepest understanding of this horrendous, glorious process.
Lawler: There’s no stopping a birth.
Harvey: No. I was once in a crowd in Delhi, and a woman started screaming. I thought she’d been stabbed, but a group of older women knew what was going on. The woman lay down on the pavement, and all these women sat around her, and fifteen minutes later she was laughing with a child in her hands. That taught me about the ferocity of the dark feminine, the Black Madonna. Nothing’s going to stop her. She’ll rend it, she’ll destroy it, she’ll burn it down, but she’ll birth it. The dark feminine is the process of death and rebirth; the crucifixion and the resurrection. The entire world is now going through this process. It is the dark night of the species.
Lawler: That sounds apocalyptic indeed.
Harvey: There are many different scenarios that don’t involve our extinction. The fundamentalists have ruined the apocalypse for everybody else, because they’ve beaten us over the head with their one-sided, unimaginative vision of it. I believe that this apocalyptic situation is part of a birth process, the birth of the divine human. But it’s not going to be “transformation lite.” We are going to have to give up our comforts and get beyond our depravity. This is no sweet and painless process of meditating, dancing naked, and assuming a Sanskrit name. You have to die in life, and you have to die into life, and you have to die into love. Mohammed said, “When you are sincere, God kills you personally.”
Lawler: You describe your own dark night of the soul in The Sun at Midnight, which denounces the guru system in general and Mother Meera in particular. Do you feel now you may have thrown the baby out with the bath water?
Harvey: Absolutely not. The guru system is bankrupt and run by some dark people. There is such a thing as black magic, occult power manipulated by dangerous individuals. The transformation that is about to take place will be of ordinary people, not of avatars and gurus.
Lawler: Did you experience black magic in your interaction with Mother Meera?
Harvey: Yes, and I say so in my book. The misuse of power is possible in all mystical systems; it’s time for Americans to stop being naive. Mystical powers can be used for divine service or to inflate the ego. And anybody at Meera’s level has the capacity for black magic. But she may have learned since then. People can make terrible mistakes and later see the truth.
Lawler: Didn’t you consider Mother Meera divine?
Harvey: Yes, that was my projection.
Lawler: You said earlier that kind of projection has more to do with you than with her.
Harvey: She encouraged that projection and set herself up as the Divine Mother. That invites projection.
Lawler: But aren’t such projections common between any student and teacher?
Harvey: There is a new kind of teacher emerging. My teacher Bede Griffiths made no claim to be a guru and didn’t invite projection. He worked humbly with you, showing you the way to be. He still appears to me in dreams and speaks to me across time and space. The elitist, hierarchical guru feeds off projection and uses it as a way of manipulating people. You must be careful to choose a teacher who is humble and not secretly intoxicated by your projection; who isn’t using you financially, sexually, or in any other way; and who is willing to talk about his or her failings and struggles. Bede would always talk about what he didn’t understand and was trying to understand, and his own failures of perception. That, to me, is real teaching.
Lawler: You also write about having a romantic relationship with a man, which you say Mother Meera opposed. The relationship allowed you to break with her, and you married this man. But that marriage later ended.
Harvey: I was saved from a projection by a projection, and then I had to go through a second shattering. It was the most appalling heartbreak I’ve ever been through. So much of the spiritual path is about the annihilation of illusion, and maybe romantic love is the last illusion. However amazing and wonderful it is, it has its limitations. I couldn’t have gone on to try and save the planet without the shattering of this illusion. I would have given all of my energies to the relationship instead of to loving and serving the world.
Radical humility is the only possible way forward. The ultimate spiritual position is not guru or sage. It is the servant. And you can’t serve until you’ve been destroyed. How merciful destruction can be.
Lawler: You are one of the few openly gay writers on spiritual matters. How has that aspect of your life informed your work?
Harvey: Being gay is a spiritual gift. It is an education from an early age in self-loathing, and you either die of it or see yourself through it. When you’re gay, you have to sacrifice opportunities for the sake of your heart, and I think that is probably the first step on the spiritual path. The gay world is, unfortunately, full of suffering and self-hatred and addiction, all of which can give you a profound sense of what it means to be disempowered. And being gay makes you a kind of spy, because you learn to see through the masks and lies of a culture. And if you are gay, there’s a greater likelihood that you can integrate the masculine and the feminine, which gives you access to additional realms of feeling, experience, sensation, understanding, and maturity. The real reason behind homophobia is to keep men from exploring the feminine and discovering the secret of the inner marriage.
Another liberating aspect of being gay is that you can’t believe in the infallibility of the major religions, because they’re all homophobic. That compels you to look for a truth beyond religion, which is a great help on the mystical path.
Lawler: When did you come out?
Harvey: I was eighteen when I came out to my parents. If I hadn’t been gay, I’d probably have ended up as a provincial professor, writing books on Milton. I would never have felt the agony of oppression and disempowerment. And I might not have taken such a radical journey after I left the guru system. I was able to dive into the depths of Tantra and discover liberation there and start to heal my body shame. The cancer of self-loathing was so deep, it gave me access to the suffering of the world. The horror of the world’s pain and my passion for sacred activism would both have been inconceivable without that secret knowledge of oppression.
Lawler: Rumi translator Coleman Barks, a friend of yours, is skeptical about claims that Rumi and his male teacher and friend Shams were lovers. Are you?
Harvey: Rumi and Shams absolutely loved each other. Was the body involved in that love? Yes, because Rumi tells us again and again he has been moved by every aspect of Shams’s being, including his presence and beauty. Do I think that they were physical lovers? No. I know this from my relationship with Father Bede. I loved him totally: his eyes, his hair, the way he walked, everything about him. The holy are beautiful, and we are attracted to them. If you have experienced this, you know it is the most intoxicating, intense attraction of all.
Lawler: It seems odd, after discussing Tantric sexuality, that you dismiss the physical expression of love.
Harvey: Authentic love is a quantum field. Most of the time when we talk about love, we’re still in the realm of Newtonian physics. The quantum field of authentic love incorporates all dimensions of the sacred and profane, and is beyond both. It’s quite obvious that the Dalai Lama loves all people and treats them with the same tenderness. He often touches people, hugs people. That’s what awakened love does: it uses the body as an extraordinary instrument of its tenderness. But that body isn’t necessarily a genital body.
This is the love we’re all being called on to incarnate, whether we’re gay, straight, bisexual, or celibate. It’s this kind of love we see between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, or Jesus and John, or Shams and Rumi. Two become one on every level.
Lawler: What do you mean by “Newtonian” love?
Harvey: It’s a vision of love that isn’t conscious of love’s sacred purpose. It doesn’t understand a love that is neither possessive nor jealous. Romantic love can confuse the human with the divine. The Tantric approach is to be conscious that the divine comes through the human. And there are four levels of Tantra: mystical inspiration, sacred friendship, sexual Tantra, and the adoration of the holy, which is the rarest and most mysterious.
Lawler: You are a well-known writer who knows famous people — from Gloria Vanderbilt to Kofi Annan — and no doubt you get invited to great parties. Doesn’t that pose a challenge to your ego?
Harvey: I actually live a quiet life. And I never confuse Andrew with Andrew Harvey. I live as Andrew, and my close friends are all strong people with passionate visions of their own — mostly powerful older women. I’m Andrew to them, and they’re not afraid to tick me off and be real with me.
Like any celebrity, I try to use my fame for good while working hard not to confuse my real self with it. Andrew Harvey has a life of his own in people’s minds and in his books and on the Internet, but Andrew is a wreck in progress, like any other human being, and my life has been sufficiently full of difficulty and confusion to remind me of that. That’s how I stay sane. Radical humility is the only possible way forward. The ultimate spiritual position is not guru or sage. It is the servant. And you can’t serve until you’ve been destroyed. How merciful destruction can be.
Lawler: I practice by building sand castles.
Harvey: That’s a good practice. It’s all sand castles, isn’t it?