Press writings by and about Lex
Through the Labyrinth
THROUGH THE LABYRINTH
Stories from the Search for Spiritual Transformation in Everyday Life
by Peter Occhiogrosso
In Chapter 3, excerpted below, the author includes a sensitive and telling portrait of Lex Hixon– his life and his philosophy.
The Role of Tradition
You could compare the esoteric core of a religion to a very pure, highoctane fuel. Put it into an old Volkswagen, and the car will go like hell for a mile before it blows apart. if we’re going to have a spiritual path for our culture, it needs to have levels that recognize where we are, and opens for us in stages that gradually move us upward.
Jacob Needleman, “In the Spirit of Philosophy,’
Free Spirit, Winter-Spring 1989-90
Lex Hixon lives with Sheila, his wife of twenty-five years, in a lovely old wood-shingled house near the historic Wave Hill section of Riv-erdale, New York, not far from the end of the Broadway IRT line. The house sits on a slight promontory overlooking the Hudson, its living- room window encircled by an enormous wisteria vine almost as old as the house, which dates back to the early part of this century and which, as I approached it, seemed suffused with mystery. Since it was the middle of January, the wisteria was not in bloom, but it did bear a number of curiously shaped pods whose skin, Sheila said, is the texture of velvet. Seated in his study, Hixon looked casually resplend-ent in light blue flannel pajamas, white cardigan, and Birkenstock sandals, his large head framed by a mane of white hair. During the course of our interview, with the Metro-North train station and the Hudson River visible in the distance below, the daylight slowly faded to dusk and finally darkness outside.
Hixon practices Islam, the religion established in the Arabian desert in the seventh century by the Prophet Muhammad, and followed today by close to a billion Muslims throughout the world. Most of those are located in the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia, but there are several million Muslims in the United States, a number of whom, like Hixon, belong to Sufi Orders. Sufism is a classification of Islam that is sometimes said to emphasize a mystical expression and that has often strayed far from orthodox Muslim practices, especially in the West. Hixon doesn’t much like the mystical tag applied to Sufis, since he feels that Islam is mystical enough; and he considers himself an orthodox Muslim. In fact, he is a sheikh (pronounced shake), or spiritual leader, who presides over mosques in Mexico City, Manhattan, and Newark, New Jersey-no mean achievement for a man born. fifty years ago in Los Angeles to nominally Episcopalian parents.
Among the key beliefs of Sufism. is a reverence for all the world’s great religions. Unlike many of their more orthodox and even fundamentalist Muslim brethren, Sufis recognize that Islam is but one of the paths to God that men and women may follow. And so it is no contradiction that Lex Hixon is also a Christian, a member in good standing of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The practice of multiple religious formats also fits in with the philosophy of Vedanta, a kind of universalist branch of Hinduism which Hixon embraces and which teaches that all religions are valid and valuable. No good Vedantist would have a problem with the fact that, in addition to those three spiritual traditions, Hixon practices meditation as part of the Geluopa Order of Tibetan Buddhism.
Most of Hixon’s teachers in the four disciplines feel that his multisectarian approach to devotion is, at best, fraught with danger, but he approaches the situation with what Da Kalki might call “Divine humor.” When I asked how much time he devotes to each tradition on any given day, for instance, Hixon replied that he is like a migrant worker. “When the strawberries are in season, I’m mostly picking strawberries, and when the grapes are in season, I’m mostly picking grapes. For instance, right now Ramadan and Lent happen to be coinciding, and they will be for the next few years, which gives me a big scheduling headache.”‘ He admitted that if holding a religious lineage is defined only by its external practices, he would be in trouble, because “there is no way to do all of those practices all the time to the greatest fullness. But if holding a lineage has to do with an inner spirit, an inner knowledge, then they are compatible. It’s like saying you can speak French and Chinese and German and Hebrew, and then someone asks, ‘Can you speak them all at the same time, every day?’ Of course not, but you can know them simultaneously and be enriched by them without pitting them against one another. You could say that mine is. a general theory of relativity for religions.”
If such an approach is not without its peculiar difficulties, for Hixon it represents a kind of “experiment,” an attempt to see what happens when one maintains one’s consciousness in distinct traditions, each of which has been widely accepted over many centuries. Whether the experiment will yield valuable spiritual data-he hasn’t come to any conclusions yet-is less important than the fact that it keeps him actively engaged in the interdisciplinary dialogue that is an essential feature of the American religious landscape. And so, although Hixon may not be “typical” in any sociological sense, he is in an advantageous position not only to report firsthand on the course of four major rivers of faith, but also to evaluate the role of religion in American society in general. Besides his four practices, he holds a Ph.D. in comparative religion from Columbia University, and is gifted with a brilliant mind that is evident in the way he effortlessly interpolates ideas from one religion to another. Hixon likens his own role to that of United Nations interpreters: “You can have a UN only because of people who know how to translate between the different languages. We’re just beginning to know how to translate between, say, Islam and Christianity, and that’s one of the things I’m working on.”
Hixon did a lot of translating in his first book, Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions, a fascinating if occasionally arcane overview of spiritual thinkers from Heidegger and Krishnamurti to Plotinus, St. Paul, and Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement in Judaism. At the time I first read Coming Home, I was- looking for someone who could explain and interpret the Islamic experience, and I began to think that Hixon was a prime candidate. He agreed to be interviewed and to speak openly about the often confusing subjects of Sufism, Black Muslims, Islamic fundamentalism, the Ayatollah and Salman Rushdie, among other things. I prepared myself by reading his second book, Heart of the Koran, a series of meditations on verses from the Islamic holy book, but I had trouble relating to it. Although the Koran is permeated with a tone of love and reverence evocative of Christianity at its most devotional, it also purveys some of that Old Testament windiness that can prove so tiresome at times. Hixon later assured me that I had at least gotten the basic point, since Islam, often mistakenly thought of as an Eastern religion, proceeds directly from Judaism and Christianity, and views itself as the final jewel in this triple crown of Western religious tradition.
So, when I met with Hixon at his home in Riverdale, I was eager to get his views on Islam, but things were not so simple. Before we could even begin, I had a problem with the tape recorder that turned out to be ridiculously elementary. As I fiddled with the various wires and plugs in my confusion and finally realized what I had done wrong, I explained the problem to Lex, but he was dismissive. “That’s a good sign,” he said. “It means we’re already on the edge of some kind of mystery.”
What was mysterious to me was that, despite my best efforts to get Hixon to talk about his spiritual evolution in biographical terms-his earliest religious impulses, first teachers, and so forth-he insisted on speaking only in general terms. As we talked, I was aware that the discussion was not at all going the way I had planned, yet I had a vague feeling (which I suppressed in my anxiety to get his history) that the things he was saying might have a deeper value than any biographical recounting. Not until I listened to the tapes the following day did I realize that he had given me a rich commentary on the place of religious practice in today’s culture. He began by responding to my statement that my book would focus on the role of spirituality in everyday life rather than on monastic or esoteric experience.
“if we go back even fifty to a hundred years,” Hixon said, “we’ll see that what we know as the spiritual traditions, which we as modern intellectuals have become a little distanced from, are the world. These spiritual traditions are not only the grounds of the values by which people operate in their lives-things that surround birth, death, marriage, and livelihood-but also, in a subtler way, the very stuff and substance of our conceptuality. This includes even the way we physically perceive things, the way we look at a beautiful day or a beautiful person. So human experience is inextricably linked with the notion of a spiritual tradition and a spiritual vision. It isn’t just something a culture can opt for or not opt for. Modem people have experimented with a secular approach that says, ‘With science and law, we can build up our world.’ But I think this was an aberration from the mature human standpoint, like saying we don’t need art anymore. Religion, or the spiritual quest, is the very substance of our humanity, and there’s no way to distance ourselves from it. If we reject it entirely, then we get pseudoreligions.”
As previously suggested, those pseudoreligions can include political or social cults ranging from Maoism to the Ku Klux Klan. “But just as art needs criticism,” Hixon continued, “spirituality needs its own form of criticism in order to keep it honest and authentic. If we don’t have a critical enough view of religion, then we get fundamentalism and charlatanism and various forms of distortion. So there’s no way we can ever relax as human beings. It’s always a matter of vigilance and.constant efforts at reminding ourselves.”
By way of example, Hixon mentioned the Islamic practice of praying five times a day, which the Prophet Muhammad borrowed and expanded from the daily Office of the Christian monks whom he encountered in the Arabian desert. These can be, Hixon said, “very brief flashes of prayer. They don’t have to last for more than ten minutes, although they can be elaborated by people who want to spend more time at it. But these five bursts of formal prayer every day have a tremendous power to remind people that they can never take a vacation from vigilance, from commitment to the highest values. So Islam is very strongly integrated into daily life, family life, the life of social responsibility. But it’s not superior to any of the other noble traditions, which have different methods and configurations. And it doesn’t call itself superior, either. The Koran states that prophets have come to every nation, bringing essentially the same message: Turn your limited life in the direction of the limitless Source of life, and submit to that. That is what I mean by human vigilance, which is not just a luxury for a few people who are especially gifted, but is the very stuff and substance of our world. The Buddhists call this mindfulness, or attention.”
As Hixon sees it, Westerners would like to practice this kind of attentiveness without having a large religious superstructure and the traditions and scriptures and ceremonies that go with it. But, he insisted, you can no more have spirituality without the traditions than you can have ordinary awareness “without all the neurons in your brain functioning, all the synapses in your nervous system, all the complicated organs of your body.” Spiritual awareness is the source of our values, “the inner ear which keeps us balanced as we walk through life, whether we’re walking through Wall Street or through the jungles of Vietnam. This sense of balance, this inner ear of spiritual awareness, relies upon a whole complex, organic body of doctrine and practice and spiritual leadership and spiritual study.”
Seen from Hixon’s viewpoint, both secular humanists and religious fundamentalists are hiding behind the same fallacy. The idea that we can do away with religion is as naive to him as the notion that traditional religion should be in the driver’s seat, running society at every moment. Furthermore, religion’s built-in “self-critical function” that prevents the abuse of spiritual power must be complemented by our own internal sense of truth that will warn us when something seems to be going awry. “Ultimately, the spiritual truth of any teacher or tradition has to be corroborated with our own internal mechanisms,” he said, “such as conscience and compassion for others and certain precious sensibilities we were given.” Dangers arise when immature spiritual teachers or religious communities say we shouldn’t trust ourselves because we’re sinful or haven’t developed the particular sensi.tivity that they recommend. Then we have to stand up for our own integrity, while remaining aware that we can also deceive ourselves at times. “‘One has deceptive thoughts or impulses, too,” Hixon added. “When one is integrated into a religious tradition which is functional and benign, one has to be willing to renounce those deceptive notions and not just say, ‘This is the way I see it. This is my integrity, so I should do it this way.’ There has to be a subtle balance, a different kind of critical faculty employed in each instance.”
“Subtle” is certainly the word for it. But as fine as some of Hixon’s distinctions are, balanced and counterbalanced like the steel plates and dingleberries of a Calder mobile, they are also both self-evident and essential. To my mind, they represent the difficult kinds of things that need to be said plainly in the arena of spiritual bluster, somewhere between the hectoring gush of the fundamentalists and the cheery vagueness not only of the New Age but also of the highly accommodating mainstream churches that too often tailor their spiritual directives to fit the audience of newly religious baby boomers they hope to attract. Hixon’s comments also recalled something I’d read in an interview in the Winter 1989-90 issue of Free Spirit with the Jewish scholar Jacob Needleman about striking a balance between esoteric and exoteric practices of religion. “Christianity, Judaism, and Islamic belief all provide people with moral precepts,” Needleman says, “ways of living meant to be obeyed by the masses.” These exoteric religious practices are intended “to give balance and steadiness to our experience,” not “to transform us, to give us nirvana or Godrealization.” He acknowledges that esoteric disciplines do exist within mainstream Western religions, but that, as many teachers have said, “the esoteric work is only for,those who have been through the exoteric, and have achieved the necessary balance.” What is arriving nowadays in the West, Needleman concludes, is “a lot of information about inner practice, available to people who haven’t really had an outer practice.”
I asked Hixon for his thoughts on Needleman’s cautionary distinction between inner and outer practices. “I don’t think it’s useful to talk about opposing dimensions of a phenomenon,” he said, seemingly sidestepping the question. “Take, for instance, the left brain and the right brain. I’m sure that there’s some biological basis to the fact that we have very subtle, complex modes of thinking and that some of them appear to originate from one side of the brain one time, and the offier side of the brain another time. But if we start thinking that we’re two-sided brains, we’re actually driving ourselves a little crazy. We must feel that we are integrated beings, not that impulses are coming from different places, because ultimately they’re coming from the very core and root of our being. Similarly, in religion, it’s wrong to separate exoteric and esoteric, or the daily disciplines from the hidden mystical teachings. That’s separating something which isn’t separable.”
But isn’t it a fact, I wondered aloud, that the mystical aspects of mainstream religions are divorced from the daily laws and practices by the institutions themselves? Christianity, for example, has a long tradition of meditation, from the early Desert Fathers through twentieth-century contemplatives like Thomas Merton and Basil Pennington, but this tradition is not taught in parochial schools or preached from the pulpit.
“There’s a problem with that,” Hixon replied, “because, for instance, communion is an intensely mystical practice of Christianity. In fact, it’s more mystical than meditation. People have somehow forgotten that conununion is a level of mysticism even more advanced than many forms of yoga and Zen in other cultures. In Islam we have a similar problem whereby people occasionally think the five-timesdaily prayers are only for beginners, whereas under advanced Sufi guidance you might be repeating some of the divine names of Allah with every breath, and you might be moving and breathing certain ways. But the fact is that the prayers of Islam themselves are motion, are breath, are chanting the divine names, and have access to the most radical levels of the religion.”
When a culture subtly desacralizes or demystifies; certain areas of religion, possibly in an effort to control them better, then the daily dimensions of religion, which Hixon called “the most radically mystical practice,” somehow get “dirnmed down or concealed. And then people begin to look at it as institutionalized or, maybe, institutionalizable.” But since everyone is completely different in the expression of his or her beliefs, Hixon argued, mechanical repetition runs counter to the spiritual sensibility. “Ibn el-Arabi, the great mystic from Andalusia in the twelfth century,” he said, “taught very clearly that Allah or God recreates the universe every split second, and never creates it in the same way twice. This kind of heightened attention takes great effort to sustain. Sometimes cultures as well as individuals lose nerve and are not willing to try to sustain it, and so, for institutional purposes, they might try to c over over the radicalness of religion.”
Going deeper into this problem, Hixon objects to the term “mysticism” being used for only certain specialized dimensions of a religious tradition. A believer who knows nothing about special meditative exercises can still be a radical mystic by virtue of his or her simple belief in God. “A Buddhist, who doesn’t have the same structure of a creator God as Christians and Muslims,” he said, “is still convinced that the state of complete enlightenment is possible and indeed inevitable for every living being, given enough evolution, and he is seeing this potentiality for Buddhahood even in a cat or a mosquito. This is as mystical as you want to get. In fact, human life itself is mystical beyond all imagination. How can you, sitting over there right now, just with your eyes and ears, be in such a full state of comprehension of all of these things that I’m thinking and that are emitting from my mouth as sounds? This is extraordinary beyond any kind of analysis. But we take daily conversation for granted, forgetting that maybe just two human beings communicating, with each other is a sacrament. So the sacramentality of daily life is also dimmed down, not only by our cultures or institutions but, frankly, by ourselves, out of a personal laziness and egocentricity that wants to have a habitual life pattern in which we can feel comfortable.”
Religion, like art, is a means that human beings use to restimulate their sense of the extraordinariness of daily experience, Hixon reasons. Hence his reluctance to separate the mystical and the mundane. Among other things, religion is the source of our commitment to justice, of our sense of beauty, and of our sense that another human being is more than just. a lump of flesh. Even mankind’s most secular understanding of the sanctity of life is in itself a religious sentiment. “We can’t necessarily rely on a religious tradition outside of us to come in and cultivate these special sensibilities,” Hixon said. “We have to take the responsibility ourselves. But the religious traditions are our greatest friends and supports in these efforts.”
The balance between personal practice and communal participation within a given tradition can also be difficult to maintain. The emphasis on meditation and mystical union described in many of the books I came across in religious bookstores gives the impression that belonging to a community of believers is sometimes secondary to developing an internal mystical life-a notion that Hixon categorically rejects. “Religion is not primarily about doctrines,” he said. “It’s about living in religious communities. It is not about private practice at all. Privacy is some sort of modem concept of the alienated, isolated individual. This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t have the precincts of one’s own heart to which to retire in every tradition. But working out some sort of private understanding of one’s own religion that one makes up oneself and maybe attracts a few people to-that’s not the way the history of religion has developed. Those peripheral developments have always occurred, but the main forces within religion have been vibrant communities, rich in depth, and not simply circling around one charismatic individual.”
Although many of the world’s great religions did originate around charismatic individuals-Moses, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, Hixon is referring to the long, vital process of development, growth, and self-regulation these traditions all underwent. That is why he feels that the so-called New Age-a loose aggregate of religious and psychological groups which I will explore later-is wrongheaded in its emphasis on accelerated spiritual growth and a modest level of commitment. “Spiritual development does take a minimum of ten or fifteen years,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to be living in a cave or washing the feet of a guru. You can be attending mass every Sunday or the mosque every Friday, but it does take many years to get any sort of maturity. Ask a concert pianist or a dancer. It’s obvious that by. practicing twenty minutes a day, you cannot become Nureyev. ”
Some of the religions that have emerged in the last fifty years or so, such as Eckankar, which calls itself a “New Age religion,” advance the idea that twenty or thirty minutes a day of contemplation is a sound base for spiritual growth (although Eckankar does advise other spiritual exercises). “This is what classifies Eckankar as a part of the New Age mentality,” Hixon said, “and hence, as far as I’m concerned, not really a part of the fully authentic spiritual traditions. New Age people are going to have to go back and renew themselves at the roots of tradition again and again. People will realize that you can’t exist in some modem nonritual, nonceremonial mode, that you have to have that sacramental life, just as marriage is coming back in again, and people want to have singing and reading from the Scriptures. That sacramental atmosphere is as necessary to the human soul as oxygen is necessary to the human organism.”
I wonder about his comparison. The resurgence of interest in the social traditions of marriage and monogamy may represent some kind of reaction against the freewheeling days of the Sexual Revolution, and its attendant dissatisfactions. But rather than signaling a return to religion, the new focus on marriage is more likely just a return swing of the pendulum, acquiring momentum from a growing fear of AIDS as much as from anything else, and is apt to be followed in time by a swing back the other way. I would argue instead that the search for a spiritual base to life is ongoing and incremental, and does not necessarily respond to blips in the curve of social fashion-which is not to say that the growing interest in both traditional and New Age religions is not connected to this ongoing human search. As Hixon himself admitted in concluding his thoughts about less traditional paths to God, “Some wonderful help can come from all different areas, because the religious person believes that everything is coming through God’s will, that the divine presence is carried in everything. If someone beats you on the street, or if someone comes up and help you when you need it, both of those things come from God as teachings. ‘Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there,’ Jesus said in the Gospels. But he also said, ‘Not everyone who calls unto me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’ You have to balance those things out. Christ is present everywhere, even where the most ornery, rebellious sect of Christians may be. But they may be shouting, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and he won’t acknowledge them on the day of the Ki ngdom.”
It was nearly dark by the time Hixon finished his preamble. “‘That’s a long monologue,” he said. “‘And that’s about all I have to say regarding the whole thing.” Of course, it wasn’t quite all. We pursued a lengthy list of topics that evening, including, at last, his personal background and his experience of Islam, and continued the dialogue in his mosque some weeks later, and again by telephone. In retrospect, the process of interviewing him seemed to replicate in some microcosmic way the difficulty outsiders face in exposing themselves to any great religion with which they are not familiar. Spiritual teachers can appear elusive, contradictory, purposefully mystifying, even vaguely threatening, and Hixon was all of that in my first encounter with him. But they can also be generous, kind, merciful, and illuminating, and Hixon was all of that, too.
I left his home that evening feeling confused and irritated, yet the more I pondered his words in the months that followed, the more I appreciated the perspective they provided for me. He had a way of mixing the esoteric and the everyday that paralleled what I was seeking to do. And I find Hixon’s outlook of particular value precisely because it goes against the grain of mainstream America’s attitude toward religion, and undercuts the extremes of spiritual ideology represented by atheistic secular humanism at one end of the spectrum and Christian fundamentalism at the other.
Nondual Polytheistic Pluralism (published in Loka 2 1976)
By Lex Hixon
The deity Manjusri appeared in dreamvision to the great Buddhist teacher Atisa, revealing to him that the school of prasangika madhyamika contained the fullest expression of truth. This is a good example of the peculiar functioning of tantric, or nondual, theism: the deity appears and reveals a truth in which all concept of deity is undercut. Due in some measure to the vigor of Atisa (and the grace of Manjusri), the prasangika madhyamika became the universal basis of Tibetan Buddhism. One could translate prasangika as “avoidance” – the avoidance of assertion through the discovery of the void or non-binding nature of any particular assertion. Leaving aside the fact that followers of the prasangika madhyamika often become strangely assertive, the prasangika approach provides a void basis for the free pluralism of tantric theistic practice. When there can be no binding system of assertions, there is no limit to the number and nature of revelatory deities which can flourish in emptiness without holding rival ontological claims; the function of these deities, which are nonentities, is to reveal the unbound, free-form nature of all form, to reveal truth. The vajrayana, or “way of tantra,” is theistic and pluralistic. Theism and pluralism are the two issues we want to discuss briefly.
Among the forms of theism, tantric theism is indeed somewhat unconventional because it springs out of the nondual insight which clearly recognizes no differences in essence between worshipper and worshipped. But it is not merely a provisional theism, cleverly designed to destroy itself, because the deities do not become obsolete to enlightened practitioners. Atisa did not consider Manjusri simply as his own mind revealing to him the truth of prasangika madhyamika. Manjusri is undoubtedly buddha-mind, but so is the Crab Nebula, and as no astronomer considers this giant cluster of stars a fiction or projection of his own mind, in the same sense, no tantric practitioner considers his chosen deity a fiction or projection of his own mind. Actually, it is the deities who project us, rather than we who project the deities.
Also, the tantric practitioner does not seek to merge with the deity in a monistic sense. There is a proud exhilaration of nonduality of essence between practitioner and deity, but the reverential relationship with the deity is maintained and deepened. The deity is not a cardboard container for the nectar of nondual insight or bliss-void, to be thrown away after the nectar is consumed. The deity is a permanent expression of insight, emptiness, and bliss. Actually, it is the practitioner who is a cardboard container, whose body and mind are eventually thrown away in death. The tantric experience of theistic relationship in the minds of nonduality is perhaps best expressed by the symbol of sexual union. The playful twoness is an essential expression of the nondual bliss. But the image of biological human sexuality is not entirely apt because it brings together two elements, the male and the female, into ecstatic union, whereas the Great Bliss of tantra is not a joining together but the discovery of an innate, natural nonduality which playfully projects from itself the elements of male and female, worshipper and worshipped. The play does not create the nonduality; the nonduality generates the play. Theism is the play between worshipper and worshipped, seeker and sought; many spiritual traditions accept the imagery of lover and beloved – though often not in the overtly sexual mode – as the most accurate description of the play. For advanced practitioners, this play deepens and intensifies. What becomes realized cannot be put into words. To state it as a philosophical doctrine of nondualism, qualified nondualism, or dualism, and then to argue about it, is somewhat beside the point. We can only say that intimacy intensifies to the point of identity, steps back to enjoy itself, and then reintensifies in a kind of endless sexual rhythm. This structure and rhythm can be discerned even in such an overtly nontheistic atmosphere as zen koan practice. The zen master Hakuin had five ecstatic great enlightenment experiences in this loveplay with the truth. Even in the absence of a formal deity, the ecstatic spiritual play which is theism manifests itself, not abstractly through concepts, but concretely as divine-human energies. The guru, lama, roshi or tzaddik often takes the place of a transcendent deity-form as the beloved. All worshippers or seekers (those of Dionysus, Christ, Kali, Allah, Bodhi, Brahman, Tao, Torah and on and on) are channels for the theistic playfulness of the truth, which is itself void of structure, yet full of energy.
This brings us to the issue of tantric pluralism. Countless sadhanas or formal worship of deities are recorded side by side in the Buddhist sadhanamala, or “garland of sadhanas.” There is no sense that the practice of one deity is fundamentally superior or contradictory to that of another, yet at the same time, there is a fierce mood of total dedication of one’s energy to the particular sadhana in which one is engaged. The fullness and accuracy of practice is considered a life-and-death matter; partial and casual experimentation with several sadhanas, serially or simultaneously, would be unthinkable for the serious tantric practitioner. Thus tantric pluralism is very far from the uninformed, unprepared for, uncommitted, and therefore irresponsible experimentation with various spiritual practices which are coming into fashion in the West today as a kind of cross-cultural theater of religious liberalism. But distortions of the pluralistic approach should not blind us to its essential truth. Tantric pluralism is based on the prasangika madhyamika: if no formulation of the Real is accepted as accurate (simply because of its very nature as formula), then countless formulations can be freely allowed to exist side by side as vehicles for the awakening to the Real. One does not awaken to the non-formulatability of the Real by simply and abstractly contemplating the assertion of its non-formulatability (which is itself nothing but another formulation). One realizes nonformulatability concretely by penetrating deeper and deeper into one or more particular formulations, by living them with total intensity. Why not regard all the authentic spiritual traditions of the planet as a sadhanamala, a gigantic garland of sadhanas? Each of these sadhanas, when undertaken with total dedication and thorough preparation, leads to an overtly or covertly nondual intimacy with a particular mode of playfulness, energy-current, or deity-form of reality itself, if one has the courage and strength to pursue the sadhana to its root or to surrender to it with complete abandon, rather than adopting the practice in a mild, conventional manner.
Sadhanas are like children. One can have several children, fully loving and nurturing each one; in fact, an only-child does not always prosper psychologically. But here we must point out a common error in the understanding of spiritual pluralism. Religious traditions do not “say the same thing in different languages.” They each say something unique. Nor do the spiritual exercises of the various traditions “lead to the same ultimate experience.” Enlightened persons from different streams of spiritual practice do not readily agree on the nature of realization. Each enlightenment is a unique flowering of truth. Pluralism goes right down to the root; it is radical pluralism. All spiritual practices are independent currents or tides in one planetary ocean. The Gulf Stream is not equivalent to or interchangeable with some current in the Indian Ocean or some tide along the coast of Japan.
Because of the tremendous development of planetary communications, radical spiritual pluralism is emerging now for the first time in the history of human civilizations as a concrete cultural possibility. But if it emerges simply on the cultural plane, it becomes merely a form of diplomacy or theater, not a transforming realization of nonduality. Pluralism must discover its own spiritual authenticity, and this authenticitv is available through the prasangika madhyarru:ka and the practice of tantra (but not exclusivelv there; the potentiality for it exists in each spiritual current). The fact that Indian culture has provided useful initial modes for spiritual pluralism can be seen as a confirmation of the potency of tantric pluralism, because, as Trungpa Rinpoche and other tantric practitioners and scholars have observed, there is little spiritual practice on the Indian subcontinent which has not been subtly imbued with tantric influences. On the Indian subcontinent religious paths are indeed regarded as a sadhanamala, although bitter quarreling among adherents of the various sects is also prevalent. We have to carry this attitude of the garland of sadhanas further and develop it more consciously, dissolving the idea that Christianity and Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are solid, mutually exclusive entities; religions are not solid entities, any more than cultures or nations are. When the nondual insight into emptiness has revealed the void, non-obstructing nature of all categories, then various cultural, philosophical, and religious forms can stay in play, now transparent and therefore free from mutual antagonism.
The countless deity-forms are not to be discarded after they are discovered to be innately transparent to the formless truth. A harmonious polycultural world-view can be created with these transparent forms – a polytheism which is nondual. This is the vajra path as it manifests in the planetary age, moving in new cultural directions with the same nondual insight and with the same deities, such as the marvelous Mahakala-Mahakali, who appear revealing a truth in which various spiritual traditions flourish even as the very concept of separate traditions is undercut.
A Journal From Naropa Institute
Edited by Rick Fields
Published by Anchor/Doubleday 1976
On Inner Life (published in Seeds of Unfolding 1984)
LEX HIXON on
As told to R. D. Tolz
Seeds of Unfolding, Spring 1984
Inner life is not to be thought of as being isolated from the world or isolated from other people. It is a quality of spiritual awareness which is always refining itself and revealing more and more about itself. It happens, as it were, secretly – behind any sort of outer activity. It is hidden even behind all the words that one may try to use to describe it. A person who is focused on inner life is one whose life is only for constant inner praise, surrender and gratitude, and for prayers for the world and for contemplation of the mystery of the Divine.
For someone who is living inner life, no matter how extensive or how limited the outer activity is, that outer life only gives a clue, and it even veils, the nature of inner life.
Inner life gives everyone the strength to survive in the outer life, but you have to be careful not to localize where that strength comes from, by saying, for example, the “inner spot within you.” Inner life is not inside the body, or inside the mind, or even inside the self. The inner life is inside God, inside the Truth. The body, mind and self – they themselves are part of the outer life. The only thing that is truly inner is ultimate reality, the Truth itself. But, of course, everything that’s happening in the universe is emerging from that reality and is sustained by it, moment by moment.
There is no question that we rely upon our inner ear to give us a sense of balance. We couldn’t even take three steps on a flat surface without falling over if it wasn’t for the inner ear. Similarly, the inner life gives strength and balance for us to carry on at whatever level of activity or responsibility we have.
Someone who just has to go to work every day to earn enough money to sustain the family, to take time out for the kids, to make sure that there is some contact with their aging parents and to be with them if they are dying – all of these tremendous demands of ordinary life could not be carried out without the constant sustenance and power of the inner life.
So the inner life is not something just a few mystics cultivate. Everybody has it- the difference being the degree to which we are conscious of it. One has to be careful not to think that the so-called ordinary person – who is out in the world struggling, who doesn’t believe in God, who doesn’t read profound books or engage in religious worship – has no inner life. That would be a false assumption. Every human being is a soul and therefore unavoidably has an inner life. It is the inner life of everyone which sustains the whole outer existence.
Again, without pushing the analogy too far, everybody integrates the inner ear wiih their movement in daily life. If they didn’t they would fall down even on a flat surface. But, of course, people with athletic training or dance training have developed their balance and focused it and made it precise in a certain way.
That is what we call the inner life. It is the training and focusing of our innate sense of balance. It enables us to be more conscious and more harmonious.
Inner life should never be regarded as an escape or a moving away from the outer life. But at the same time, the inner life does provide something more reliable than the outer life. The outer life is subject to all sorts of disasters and misunderstandings. One could, for instance work for years and years and years, dedicated to a very good project in the world, and then have it collapse. If one had identified one’s life work with that outer project, it would be a real time of devastation.
So although we should live the outer life, we shouldn’t really depend on it for the source of meaning, but rather on the inner life and then allow its meaning to radiate into our outer life.- We should be very careful not to begin to feel that the meaning is really in the outer life. It’s really only in the inner life. The outer life shines with the light of the inner life just as the moon shines only by the light of the sun.
Our everyday actions, duties and responsibility do not have to interfere with living inner life fully. If we added up all the hours a day that we spend working or commuting to work and the time we spend dressing or taking a shower, brushing our teeth, even preparing food – we would end up with this vast number of hours a day. And then suppose we are able to do a spiritual practice such as meditation for a half an hour oi an hour a day. It seems that an excessive amount of time is going into just mundane responsibilities, and only a tiny percentage of the time is going into spiritual practice. So that’s why we have to completely change our image of spiritual practice. The inner life goes on constantly. It operates twenty-four hours a day. There is no time that we cannot connect with it. Being able to work in an office with colleagues and stress is actually a spiritual attainment. The people who are able to do this gracefully and fruitfully are able to do so because of their inner life. Just ordinary life in the world is a spiritual attainment.
A person who desires to develop inner life usually needs to find some activity which is conducive to that, to find some discipline or spiritual path. But we have a very serious crisis in spiritual education in our Western culture, because the strength of the church has waned a great deal. There’s a mass of secularized people, a lot of them highly educated, who have fallen prey to all sorts of quasi-spiritual training that would never have been tolerated in an earlier time when religions of the culture exercised a stronger influence. In some sense it’s wonderful that we are no longer so confined by religious traditions but, on the other hand, into this vacuum of freedom and liberality all sorts of crazy alternatives are flowing.
But that’s looked at from the human standpoint. If we look at the whole thing from the standpoint of the all-wise, all-merciful guide, who is guiding all souls at every moment, there may not be a terrible problem here. Perhaps this is an opportunity to move people through their spiritual evolution faster or to give them a more multi-faceted kind of training than available in the past when they were born, lived and died inside one particular religious tradition.
The seeker has to be cautious but at the same time, open. That seems contradictory, but it’s perfectly natural. This is the way we must live life moment by moment. Take the example of learning how to ride a bicycle. You’ve got to be careful not to fall over to the left or fall over to the right, but the only way to do that is to get a strong forward momentum. So the caution is a sense of balance in not tipping over to one side or another, and openness is the forward momentum. You actually need both to ride the bicycle.
All individuals are born for the spiritual path. Some of them manage to avoid it, manage to build enough barriers between soul and the rest of their being so that somehow they can reject it or turn aside from it. But it takes more energy to resist the spiritual path than it takes to walk along it.
Speech Delivered at Ramakrishna Mission 1993
A well known American author
I am speaking to you with the heart of a pilgrim, not with the mind of a scholar.
In 1965, my wife and I received mantra diksha from Swami Nikhilananda, who was a direct spiritual child of Sarada Devi. May be the mantra she gave him, he gave to me. I never asked. But that is how close we feel to the Mother of the Universe as the beautiful, gentle presence of Sri Sarada, who is Mahasaraswati in human form. We know that she and Sri Ramakrishna were the same Reality, the same soul, the same infinte Light manifesting through two bodies. Hardly any time has passed since the beginning of this manifestation at Dakshineswar. Lord Buddha, Lord Christ and the other great divine manifestations in the history of humanity lived thousands of years ago. Yet we are standing in the immediate presence of their transmission, within two or three generations. We are so close that it’s hard for us to speak about the reality of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada. We do not know enough about them yet. Such manifestations take hundreds of years to unfold and to become clear. Swami Vivekananda once said to Swami Saradananda, “You send some notes to Max Muller and encourage him to write a book about Sri Ramakrishna.” Swami Saradananda replied: ”But Swamiji, why don’t you do it? It’s more appropriate that you should write about our Master.” Vivekananda responded: “I’m too close. I’m at the very root of the tree. You, Sarat, are in the branches. You can give your notes to this Western scholar.” We are all too close to know or to speak.
It has been 100 years since Swamiji came to Chicago, and, we must add, 50 years since the translation and publication of Sri Ramakrishna’s Gospel in the West. These are two immensely important anniversaries, and they are coming at the same time. When Swamiji visited the West, he did not even speak about Sri Ramakrishna or Sri Sarada or Mahakali. When he returned to India, some of his brother swamis complained, “Brother, you preached Vedanta in the West, but you didn’t mention our Master.” And Vivekananda, with his usual confidence and fiery temperament, responded: ”Let them understand Vivekanada first.” Before he passed out of this world, Swamiji remarked on that last day, “If there were another Vivekananda, only he would know what this Vivekananda has done.”
So the 100 years since Chicago have been for us to assimilate — for India and world culture to assimilate — Swamiji’s preparatory teachings. Divine Mother gave Vivekananda such a subtle and complex task. During Sri Ramakrishna’s last illness, after he poured all Mother’s powers into Swami Vivekanada, he exclaimed: “Now I’m simply a faqir, a poor faqir with no possessions.” Swamiji then took on a tremendous responsibility. He was to build up the Indian people with a sense of nationhood, a sense of pride and originality that colonialism had sapped. But at the same time, when he went to America, Swamiji was acting on the international scene. He was proclaiming that nationalism of any kind could not be the final solution. In fact in the Madras lecture when he returned to his country after visiting America, he plainly stated that no solution could emerge from a national basis, only from an international basis. But first one must have a national basis. What a subtle task! In the West, and even in India, Vivekananda is known mostly as a patriot, as an Indian nationalist. Even India has not absorbed the truly international perspective of Swamiji. He was not interested in elevating races or religions or creeds or nations. He was interested in removing these barriers, these imaginary separations. Because that is what his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, did. Sri Ramakrishna removed all barriers between paths, creeds, genders, nations, persons and traditions. He subtly removed these mere conventions. Remember when Sarada Devi was a small girl. She was being married, and some local person offered jewelry for the ceremony. Sarada Devi’s family was too poor to possess the ornate traditional jewelry that a bride had to wear. The man demanded all the bangles back again immediately. Sarada was five years old. Her mother-in-law began to take them from her and she began to weep. Sri Ramakrishna said, “No, let her first go to sleep.” Then he removed all these ornaments without her knowing. With this gentleness and subtlety, Sri Ramakrishna removed all the barriers and boundaries from humanity, from the globe, without our knowing it. It may take hundreds of years for us to awaken to this fact.
We now hear not just visionaries but political leaders speaking about a new world order and a global civilization. Sri Ramakrishna has prepared the way for that. He has completed the basic spiritual work for that. But the working out, in a social context, of spiritual realization takes centuries. The modern world is more accelerated than the ancient world. There is more communication, more technology and development, so in the next hundred years we may actually see the emerging of a global civilization that is seamless, that is whole, that does not have any fundamental divisions. Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada have opened this universal age.
This does not mean that religious traditions will lose their integrity. It does not mean that nations will lose their national culture. Quite the opposite. Everyone will develop their own creativity, their own uniqueness, but the overall picture will be one of harmony, sharing mutual inspiration. We cannot call this the vision of Swami Vivekananda, because it’s a reality which has been brought into being by Sri Ramakrishna. The Master gave to his beloved Naren the responsibility to prepare the ground for this to manifest. After a hundred years, we can clearly see that the ground has been prepared.
I was reading the Calcutta paper some days ago about the centenary anniversary of Kirpal Singh, the noble spiritual teacher who travelled all over the world and brought together members of many different religions for discussion. We should not think that this effort of creating a global civilization is just going forward through Swami Vivekananda. He opened the way and many noble individuals from many sacred and secular traditions have been carrying on this work over the last hundred years.
If we look at the world today, at least at what’s on the surface, we see turbulence, factionalism and division. But underneath, we sense that people are no longer willing to accept this fragmentation as a way of being. For instance, just as an example, in modern Germany there are some right wing fascists who persecute foreigners. German citizens have risen up and have demonstrated in great numbers that they are no longer prepared to accept this. We know the disaster that happened earlier in this century from that very kind of movement in Germany, but this time the people will not accept it. The people have been awakened. There has been a global awakening. I think I can say without offending anyone that Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada are behind this global awakening. But it has not been carried on by Sri Ramakrisna’s disciples alone. This awakening has been furthered by many, many individuals from India and from other places who have opened the way for global consciousness.
What is the new perspective that we have after 100 years? As I said earlier, 100 years is barely enough time to begin to get a sense of the vastness and the radical quality of what Sri Ramakrishna brought to the world and what Swamiji has been preparing us for. It’s like traveling to the Himalayas — when you enter the foothills, you can no longer see the snow-capped mountains. But there’s a certain point when you can see the snow-capped mountaiins again. They seem deceptively near, but you keep traveling, traveling, traveling. It takes a long time to get there. So maybe after 100 years, we have arrived at the point where we can see the magnitude of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada for the world. But we have many more miles to travel over difficult paths.
We do not claim anything. We don’t want to become sectarians who insist that our guru is the satguru in charge of the entire world process. We know too many people who think that way exclusively. In the case of Sri Ramakrishna, we feel that he is the sarva dharma swarupa, the essence of all dharmas. This is not exclusive. As Sri Ramakrishna says, the only guru is akhanda satchidananda, indivisible being, consciousness and bliss. That guru alone is operating through all dharmas, through all sacred traditions. and the awakening that proceeds uniquely from each one. We should not forget that an entire world religion emerged on this planet during the time that Sri Ramakrishna was here — the Bahai faith, born in Iran during the middle of the niineteenth century. Many thousands of their people went through martyrdom in order to establish liberal spiritual ideals in the heart of Shiite Islamic culture. Sri Ramakrishna would never want us to be narrow, to assume that his lila at Dakshineswar contained everything, that nothing else of spiritual significance was happening or will happen on the planet. That is simply not true. The lila at Dakshineswar was the event that signalled a vast movement in the consciousness of humanity, which is being expressed through local saints and sages everywhere, through cultural leaders everywhere. What happened in Dakshineswar was a secret symbol, because Sri Ramakrisna was the manifestation of sattva guna. He announced: “When the people of Calcutta start talking about me, I am going to disappear. When I become the focus of attention, I will disappear.” Which is precisely what he did.
What we see at Dakshineswar is a small glimpse of a vast movement in the consciousness of humanity. Every nation and every religion has a responsibility to carry on that work of unification. We never feel that the whole world is going to worship Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna himself would not even like to be mentioned. He would say, “Why attribute it to me? The Mother does everything.” If there are liberal renewals in the various world religions, Sri Ramakrishna would attribute them to the Mother, to Divine Reality itself.
Swami Vivekananda said that a yogi could retire into a cave in the Himalayas, simply think true thoughts, and energy of the those thoughts would penetrate the walls of the cave, would enter into the hearts of people and would change the world. Many of the great world leaders that we’ve seen during the last hundred years never read the works of Swami Vivekananda, never even heard the name of Swami Vivekananda, but his thoughts have entered their hearts. His thoughts have entered the stream of human consciousness. We do not have to claim credit for him. We do not need to have members of all religious and cultural traditions saying, “Yes, we owe it all to Swami Vivekananda.” This would be totally inappropriate. Allow Mother, allow Divine Reality, to unfold the world, to unfold the new harmonious humanity and the global humanitarian civilization.
One hundred years after Swami Vivekananda, I find myself standing here in front of you in Vivekananda Hall, New Delhi, addressing you as my sisters and brothers, just as he addressed the Americans in Chicago as sisters and brothers. One difference is that I am not presenting the science of Vedanta, as he did in the West, I am presenting Sri Ramakrishna. I am coming here on pilgrimage, bearing the book which I’ve written, called Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna, which is a dramatic retelling of various accounts in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. This is the new perspective. Swamiji brought the science of Vedanta in preparation, but after 100 years, what the world needs now is the Mother of the Universe, the conscious manifestation of the Mother, through Sri Ramakrishna, through Sri Sarada. The science of Vedanta is like the breast of Shiva. Upon the platform, the Divine Mother is dancing. I’m not well informed about the East, but in the West, at least, the women’s movement is the largest movement. Everyone is being drawn to the teaching of God as Mother. The danger one has in India is assuming, “We have Rama, we have Krishna, why do we need Ramakrishna? Why should we adopt this Bengali speciality of Mahakali when we have our own local forms of the Mother?” But you have to remember that Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Mahakali are not a limited cultural form. She is Reality Itself. And She is Sri Ramakrishna’s ishtadevata. We cannot conceal that. We cannot honestly say, “Sri Ramakrishna was just a Vedantin; all he practiced was aham bramasmi.” No. He was and is a manifestation of Mahakali, who is the Goddess of Advaita. She is the Goddess of nondual wisdom. That is why Mayavati, the ashram of advaita vedanta established by Vivekananda, happens to be located in a place where Mahamaya was worshipped. The Mother is discovered everywhere. Vivekananda dedicated Mayavati to the most purely noncultural expression of advaita — as I think Swamiji might have put it, without any cultural trappings. But it just so happens that the Mother Sevier and her husband found that beautiful place where the great Goddesss Mahamaya was worshipped.
We never have to force the ideal of Mother on anyone. It will spontaneously rise up inside them. We never force the ideal of Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna recounts in the Gospel that Sri Ram came to certain sages in his kingdom, and they said, “O Rama, we worship God as aum, so we have no desire for any Divine incarnation.” Rama went away, pleased with their impersonal worship. Nothing about Sri Ramakrishna’s manifestation needs to be forced on humanity or needs to be proclaimed in a dogmatic manner. His manifestation is basically the inspiration of Mother, the inspiration of God as feminine. This mystic femininity will rise up spontaneously during the next hundred years. This is the subject which will be discussed when it is 200 years since Chicago. Mother is going to manifest in many forms and in many subtle ways.
I don’t know if anyone here knows much about Islam. When you visit Medina, the holy city where the tomb of the prophet is located, the tomb of Fatima is nearby. There is even greater devotion and intensity of prayer and grace experienced around her tomb than around his tomb. So the mystery of the feminine is manifest secretly inside the hearts of all traditions. Mother never needs to be brought from the outside. Sri Ramakrishna was a worshipper of Divine Mother. Now is the time for us in the West and you here in India to proclaim the Mother as the path to global civilization. Up to this point, we have mainly proclaimed Swamiji. That was preparing the ground, and it was made somewhat easy, because Swamiji spoke in such universal terms. He presented the Vedanta as quite rational. It seemed to be in harmony with the scientific mood of the modern world. Maybe some of you are thinking, “Isn’t this going to be a backward step, suddenly to proclaim Mahakali, suddenly to present Sri Ramakrishna, this ecstatic, mysterious manifestation of the Mother?” You may be wondering: “How is this going to reach the minds of modern people?” We do not have to figure out how it is going to happen. It is simply going to happen. People will feel the universality of the Mother — whether they are Muslim or Sikh or Christian. They will feel that their truth, their reality, their tradition is being affirmed, because the Mother is the Mother of all Her children. She does not make any distinctions among Her children. The whole world is going to feel that tender touch of the Mother. Civilization is going to receive that blessed touch of the Mother. When someone is giving the talk, “Two hundred years since Chicago,” the world will have accepted the Divine Mother. As Sri Sarada Devi revealed: “This time the Master has taught the world the most powerful name — Ma.” Mother is the most transforming name for the Divine. Just as Sri Chaitanya awakened Bengal into the ecstasy of love, this time the whole world will be awakened into love without boundaries. That is the promise of Sri Ramakrishna in his own words. We must take him seriously. But this awakening to the feminine will not be brought about by any kind of propaganda. One time Keshab Sen said to Sri Ramakrishna, “O Paramahamsa, I would like to spread your message all over the world. I would like to write about your harmony of religions in all the journals, because it will bring world peace.” World peace is what we are interested in primarily now. Keshab Sen was right, that the presence of Sri Ramakrishna on this earth is going to bring world peace. It is already in the process of bringing world peace, even though the dream of this century is a terrible spectacle of war and oppression. When one sweeps vigorously with a broom, at first there are clouds of dust, but afterward the house is clean. Sri Ramakrishna answered Keshab firmly: “My dear, you don’t have to write about this place. Not even the weight of a thousand Himalayan mountain ranges could suppress this truth that is being manifested here at Dakshineswar.” There is great joy in this act. We need not leave this hall tonight with a sense of having to bring about some revolution. This wonderful, gentle, yet supremely powerful presence of the Mother is already permeating the world, has always permeated the world. Now, as complete human beings, we must awaken to the Mother. Humanity as a whole will recognize Sri Ramakrishna as the messenger of the Mother.
Not everyone has to accept the Dakshineswar avatara. Dr. Sarkar brought his son to meet Sri Ramakrishna, and after some discussion, Sri Ramakrishna said, “I see that the son also does not accept the notion of avatara, like the father.” They were humanists. They felt that no human being could be Divine Reality itself. And Sri Ramakrishna reassured Dr. Sarkar: “It doesn’t make any difference whether your son accepts the doctrine of avatara. He’s a delicious mango. A good mango tree doesn’t produce bad mangoes.” The mystery of avatara, or Divine Descent, is a secret inner intuition for those of us who are initiated. It is not a creed. We cannot insist that people believe Sri Ramakrishna is an avatar, because he never insisted.. When you receive the initiation, you feel this mystery inwardly. As the years go on in one’s sadhana, one feels more and more clearly that Sri Ramakrishna’s nature is boundless. This is what my teacher, Swami Nikhilananda, told me about the direct disciples. They explained to him: “We didn’t think Sri Ramakrishna was an avatar when we were with him. We were having a beautiful time. Only later, when we entered into strong sadhana and tapasya, when we spent months and years alone in constant mantrajapa, then we began to realize who the Master is.” So the mystery of Divine Descent is not meant to be a doctrine. This is not like a church, where everyone who joins the church has to believe the same thing. Indian spirituality is very free, and Sri Ramakrishna was the absolute embodiment of spiritual freedom. He gave everyone the freedom and power to pursue Truth along his or her own unique path. This freedom and power simply are Mahakali. Sri Ramakrishna simply is that Mother Reality. He had a vision once that his photograph would be venerated in many homes all over the world. We will see this in the next hundred years. Sri Ramakrishna’s photograph will be gracing and blessing the homes of people from completely different religious traditions and people of no religious tradition. In the modern world, we will see the phenomenon of many people of good will, who have great intelligence and great spiritual love for humanity, who are not involved in religious traditions. This should not concern us. Mother works just as well for people outside of religious traditions as for those inside of religious traditions. We are going to see, in the next century, a vast recognition of Sri Ramakrishna as the messenger of universal harmony, as the messenger of the Mother. One of the disciples said to him, “Master, you are God incarnate.” He responded instantly: “Don’t ever say a foolish thing like that again. Suppose the owner of a large estate, the powerful matriarch, wants to invite everyone there to a feast. She sends a small boy, who says, ‘My mother is inviting everyone. Please come.’ Everyone respects the boy and listens to him only because the words of the matriarch are coming through that boy.” Sri Ramakrishna continued: “I am that child, and the words of Divine Mother are coming through me.”
Those words of the Mother have to be heard directly in the heart. That invitation has to be accepted consciously by humanity. It is already being accepted. Of course we retain a sense of making personal effort into making this ashrama as beautiful as it is. But this effort should be made spontaneously and with joy, without any sense that we have to bring into being a new civilization. Mother is bringing this civilization into being. We should attribute it to Her by using the name Ma, which does not belong to Bengal. It belongs to every place, every culture, it belongs to humanity. Is there a child anywhere in this world that does not say somehting like Ma, Ma, Ma when crying out for its mother? This Mother belongs to all humanity. It is not a sectarian division of any kind. When Sri Ramakrishna is acknowledged as the messenger of the Mother, that will be the next step. But without Swami Vivekananda working for a hundred years, let’s say in his subtle body, the world would not have been ready to accept the Mother and to proclaim the Mother. People might have made Mother Reality into another religion, another empire. But Sri Ramakrishna has signalled the end of division, the end of conflicting religions and empires. All that is essentially over with. Now simply the harmony of the Mother must reign, and give free reign to the spiritual creativity of every human being.
It’s very interesting that Gorbachev said to the Pope in their historic meeting in Rome, “You know that in our country we have Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and we feel that all of them should have the spiritual freedom to pursue their affairs, their lives, their life of prayer, and we feel that the government of state has to guarantee them the freedom.” Isn’t it an amazing remark, coming from what was an anti-religious, totalitarian state? India also has that responsibility to continue to nurture freedom and spiritual creativity in her peoples. As more grace pours into the world from the Divine Mother, more responsiblility comes to world leaders and to each of us. This is a responsibility to receive, to open up, to be receptive, to clear away any sense of division or otherness. I was fortunate enough to make the hajj to Mecca and Medina. As you know, Sri Ramakrishna accomplished his Islamic sadhana. If someone receives the Ramakrishna mantra, they receive all the fruits of his sadhanas. Perhaps these fruits do not manifest externally for everyone, but for me it happened that way. I went to those noble cities in Arabia out of love for Sri Ramakrishna and repeating, as he received from his Sufi master Govinda Rai, the Allah mantra, repeating the glorious name of Allah. I never discussed with anyone that I was a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, a devotee of Sri Kali. I didn’t need to raise that issue, because I felt completely at home in Islam, completely loved and accepted, greeting my brothers and sisters in Islam as I would greet my brothers and sisters in Christianity or Buddhism. This might be difficult to do in an ancient country like India, where the religious and cultural divisions are quite strong, but since I took birth in America, I have had the freedom to manifest love and devotion in many different religious communities. Sri Ramakrishna once said, while talking to his Divine Mother in ecstasy, “O Mother, how I long to prostrate with sincere Muslims in their mosques. How I long to pray with devout Christians in their churches. But if I display too much freedom, then every community will become angry at me and I might not be able to enter Your temple again, O blissful Kali. So take me secretly into the heart of all humanity and allow me to pray with everyone night and day.”
Gradually there will be more and more friendship between the religious communities. India herself has always produced grreat saints and mystics who freely cross over all religious boundaries. They never felt bound by religious convention and no one ever got angry at them. The people accepted them and revered them. The Indian people have always thought it wonderful that their sages honour different traditions. Sri Ramakrishna embodied the Indian spirit itself, the spirit of inclusiveness which we can talk about as brahmajnana or as the realization of Mother, the awakening to Ma, Ma, Ma. The mahavakya of the Ramakrishna Upanishad is Ma, Ma, Ma. My prayer is that all humanity, which is already repeating Ma, Ma, in one way or another, will become conscious of that Mother Reality and will attribute that message to Sri Ramakrishna. If one is going to benefit spiritually from a teaching, it is very important to attribute it to the correct source. It is very important that the Master’s beautiful form, which was photographed, as well as his spiritual presence and teaching become widely known across the world. Why? Simply so people can say, “Yes, that was the messenger of the Mother. That was the messenger who brought the name Ma, Ma, Ma which everyone can repeat no matter what their tradition is, no matter what they believe.” The instinctive spiritual core of humanity is Ma, Ma, Ma. This is the Tantric form of Advaita. The reasonings of Advaita Vedanta do not penetrate one’s entire being. It is a very difficult effort to experience that one Reality in every moment through Vedantic reasoning. But if one knows this mahavakya, this great affirmation Ma, Ma, Ma, the fragrance of the Ramakrishna Upanishad, the Upanishad of modern times, and proclaims it fearlessly and openly without forcing, then one experiences the Truth that is manifesting through Dakshineswar. Thank you.
“Stand up, be bold, be strong. Take the whole responsibility on your own shoulders, and know that you are the creator of your own destiny. All the strength and succour you want is within yourselves.”
“Ramakrishna had a vision once that this photograph of him would be adored and appreciated in houses all over the world – that his humble Bengali form would be used by the Divine Mother to bring Her energy and Her delight to a kind of global civilization. There’s a beautiful reproduction of the original negative of this photograph on the cover of Great Swan, quite dark but very radiant – the first time in a hundred years of the Ramakrishna order and Ramakrishna publishing that this picture of him in high absorption, in samadhi, has ever appeared on the front of a publication. That was the decision of Shambhala, it was not my decision. So I consider that the cover of Great Swan is at least as important as the contents of the book.’ – Lex Hixon
Opening a Door for Mother Kali: a talk with Lex Hixon (published in Free Spirit 1992)
Opening a Door for Mother Kali: a talk with Lex Hixon
by Cassia Berman
My Mother is the principle of consciousness. She is akhanda satchidananda – indivisible Reality, Awareness, and Bliss. The night sky between the stars is perfectly black. The waters of the ocean depths are the same. The infinite is always mysteriously dark. This inebriating darkness is my beloved Kali. Mother is now running up and down the stairs of Her Temple in sheer delight, Her tangled black hair flowing free. Her anklets are making musical sounds. Can you hear? Can you see?
…Her Energy is like the rays of the sun … Awaken to nondual Reality through Mother Kali. She holds the key.
The passionate lover does not care for formless Divine Presence. The small child wants only its mother. But the vision of the ishtadeva, the aspect of Divinity most intimate to the heart, is equivalent to supreme knowledge, for the ishtadeva is actually the practitioner’s own infinite nature, limitless awareness.
Mother, is it You or I? Do I perform any action, think any thought? No! No! It is You alone. You listen through my ears to all these words of teaching. I am not listening. Only You.
Founder and original publisher and editor of this magazine, Lex Hixon is also remembered by many, many people who lived in New York in the seventies and eighties for the radio Interview program, “In the Spirit,” which was broadcast weekly on WBAI for thirteen years, and on which just about every well known spiritual teacher who passed through New York City during those years appeared. For those who have wondered what has become of him since he withdrew from these two activities that opened spiritual doorways for so many, Hixon, a tall, handsome man with flowing white hair and a playful but firmly dedicated manner, is still about the same business of creating forums for the spirit to flow through, though in more refined form. He is now involved in opening a door for the energy which first initiated him to the spiritual way, to be more widely known. Author of Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna, published in May by Shambhala, Hixon is giving the next year of his life as an offering to Ramakrishna, to do a rather unconventional promotional tour for the book (befitting his unconventional subject) to restore the great master to his rightful place in global consciousness.
‘Everything I’ve, done up to this point prepared me to write Great Swan. The energy of Rarnakrishna has been permeating me for the last 27 years.”
Please remember. Although our conventional bodies are mere containers, the lotus heart of the lover is God’s living room. A powerful sovereign may mercifully visit various regions of his vast kingdom at one time or another, but he remains directly accessible to his far family and close advisors in the innermost chamber of the royal palace. This is the heart of humankind. God dwells and flows as consciousness in and through all conscious beings, no doubt, but Divine Reality manifests most vividly in the hearts of those who love only for the sake of pure love- O friends, I beg you to come. Come to the living room of God!
‘Great Swan,” the literal translation of paramahamsa, the legendary swan of Hindu folklore who, when given a mixture of water and milk, drinks the milk and leaves the water, is the title of reverence given in India to a fully realized being – one who is able to extract the divine essence from earthly life. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who lived in India from 1836 to 1886, was an ecstatic, eloquent, delight-filled holy man, a Brahmin priest who demonstrated with great freedom and joy that all religious paths lead to the same One Source, whether one worships the Divine in one of its many forms or in its formlessness; and who himself worshiped God with great devotion and bliss in the feminine form of the great goddess Kali. In the present abundance of spiritual paths and teachings available to westerners, Ramakrishna is not exactly a household word, but in many ways he can be said to have ushered in the spiritual renaissance going on today, especially in its aspect of the flowering of feminine energy.
“Its not that Ramakrishna had a theory of religions all being one, or that he was showing some particular commonality,” says Hixon.
“He was a child of the Divine Mother who was just at play through all possible spiritual forms. He doesn’t leave us a philosophy or a theology, but really an enthusiasm for God and for truth in whatever context we find it. He said, ‘Go to your own traditions, go to your own roots and sources, go wherever you want to. Don’t come to me. Don’t call me guru, don’t call me spiritual father.’ He used to say, ‘Those words, guru and baba, they prick me like thorns. Please stop using them.’
“Ramakrishna and his wife and spiritual consort Sarada, who are a unity,” says HIxon, ‘in their devotion to the blissful Mother of the Universe, really opened the way for the modern feminine age which we see dawning around us, which is manifesting in so many subtle ways, and which will continue to grow in depth and Intensity. Without a doubt, it is the most important movement of our time. He and Sarada and Kali, the beautiful black warrior goddess of wisdom who is their chosen form of worship, are extremely important for women and men today, not just to study in the limited sense of study, but to encounter and play with and dance with.”
The voice of the Paramahamsa is so tender, so motherly, as he calls humanity to its own highest goal, that tears run down the cheeks or spring forth within the heart of everyone present. Ramakrishna can miraculously bring tears to the eyes of those who have never before wept for God.
Ramakrishna’s energy was brought to the West almost 100 years ago, when Swami Vivekananda, his foremost disciple, spoke at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. The Swami, speaking in terms that could be accepted by western Christians, thoroughly charmed and inspired his listeners, and was able to found a worldwide movement based on Vedanta, the Hindu philosophy which declares the equality of all religions. Ramakrishna came to be known more particularly in the West fifty years ago, when Swami Nikhilananda, a direct disciple of Sarada Devi, translated into English one of the root texts of the lineage – lively, descriptive chronicles of meetings Ramakrishna had with his devotees, recorded in Bengali by the disciple who called himself M. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as the English version is called, was midwifed and welcomed by some of the intellectual and creative elite of the time: Margaret Wilson, the daughter of President Wilson, helped the Swami with the language of the translation and Joseph Campbell helped with the editing.
Hixon sees his own encounter with Ramakrishna as the basis of all the work he’s subsequently done. “Ramakrishna really chose me. The Gospel of Sri Ramokrishna came into my library through a strange series of events just as I was graduating from college, and then I met the translator of that wonderful book, Swami Nikhilananda, and my wife and I studied with him for seven years and received initiation into Sri Ramakrishna.’
On the urging of Swami Nikhilananda, Hixon entered the Ph.D. program at Columbia University, eventually completing his dissertation in the Religion Department and during that time became the host of the aforementioned radio program, ‘In the Spirit,” which “offered me the opportunity to meet the finest representatives of world traditions who, visited New York City. I interviewed the Dalai Lama and other important Tibetan Lamas, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Rabbi Gedalia Kennig of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muzaffer of Istanbul, as well as homegrown figures such as Stephen Gaskin, Western Zen Master Bernard Glassman, Catholic activist Daniel Berrigan, Ram Dass, Hilda Chariton, Rabbi Shlorno Carlebach, Pir Vilayat Khan. I met literally hundreds of teachers and students –
both unknown and wellknown, authentic and not-so-authentic – observing the interesting dynamics of cultural interaction and spiritual growth.’
Along the way, his own path branched forth in many directions. His first book, Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions grew out of a course he taught at the New School for Social Research. He was initiated and accepted formal responsibility as a spiritual guide, or Sheikh, in the 700-year-old Khalwati-Jerrah! Sufi Order of F,gypt and Istanbul and now guides Sufi communities in New York City, Newark, Memphis, Boulder and Mexico City. Heart of the Koran, his meditations on the Koran and account of his experiences in mystical Islam, was published four years ago by Quest Books. He and his wife Sheila practice orthodox paths in both Tibetan Tantric Buddhism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity; and he is currently involved in koan study under the Zen Buddhist Sensei Bernard Glassman. Four more books, written from his experiences and meditations in these traditions, are due to be published over the next two years.
However, the idea of writing a book about Ramakrishna never crossed his mind.
“I wasn’t really planning to write such a book. I sat down one day and started writing it. I hadn’t even conceived of doing such a thing – it would have been much too audacious an idea for me to come up with. So you might say that, fifty years after The Gospel first came out in English, Ramakrishna himself has decided to reappear on our cultural scene.”
Ramakrishna often speaks of Divine Reality as a boundless golden meadow, blocked from view by the apparent wall of space and time, substantiality and separation. The awakened person, he explains, is an opening in that wall, through which a certain segment of the dimensionless expanse of God can actually be perceived. The God-man, or avatara, is like a vast opening in that wall, through which millions of sincere human beings can pass without need of the superhuman efforts at contemplation exerted by the saints.
The person who wrote the original Gospel In Bengali, who called himself M., was chosen and molded by Ramakrishna for this task, although he only saw this In retrospect. I feel that all of my studies and all of my contacts with people within our culture who are attempting to reach out spiritually was Ramakrishna’s way of pre- paring’ me to write this book. There wasn’t a question of my deciding who to write about, but rather him deciding I should write about him.
“Ramakrishna said one time to M., ‘Mother is going to give you some teaching responsibility to direct some, of Her knowledge,’ and then he went or say, ‘but you know, She can make great teachers out of mere straws,’ which immediately took away whatever ego M. might have felt in being given responsibility as a teacher. In Great Swan, there’s narrator – the thirty-three encounters are written in the first person in the present time. In there I quote that – Ramakrishna says, “I can see that Mother is going to give you some responsibility to teach, but she can make great teachers out of mere straws.” So in the first person narrative of this book, I had those words directed to myself, as it were. There’s nothig in the book I’ve made up. They’re all statements made under various conditions to various people. Some of them are contained in The Gospel, others are contained in obscure parts of the Ramakrishna literature. I tried to bring them all together and make them as part of one flow.”
The Paramahamsa’s room is always open. I cherishes no sense of separate, private, persoral space. We find him seated comfortably on a common wood-frame bed facing east, his wonderful eyes gazing into the perpetual down of Divine Wisdom. Smiling with delight, experiencing only the innate bliss of primordial awareness, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is conversing with his friends about Divine Reality – its play as the universe, its compassionate manifestation through various traditional religious forms, its nature as formless radiance that shines at the heart of every conscious being, and its essence that can never be touched by speech or mind. This is the sage’s only subject of conversation, yet his approach to it is constantly new and unpredictable.
Welcoming and treating all visitors as messengers from his Divine Beloved, or even as direct manifestions of the Beloved, Ramakrishna talks and laughs with them – communing as well in radiant silence – for more than twenty hours every clay.
“Certain American thinkers have been drinking from the well of Sri Ramakrishna for many years. One thinks of Aldous Huxley, of Christopher Isherwood, of Huston Smith, of Joseph Campbell, of J. D. Salinger and many others one could name who have never publicly stated their connection with Ramakrishna; of John Cage, who in a recent interview in Tricycle was asked how he got into spiritual life and he said, “I was lucky. I read The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.” Ramakrishna has already proven his ability to enter into our culture through these particular thinkers and effect profound cultural changes and creativity. I think the next wave of people who will be inspired by him, that the majority of them will be women, because he was first and foremost a worshiper of the feminine and a transrnitter of the shakti energy, the divine feminine wisdom.
“The book Great Swan is simply Ramakrishna at play. He’s playing through the way of speaking of late twentieth century America, borrowing the language that he finds in my psyche, in my educational background. He’s freely playing through that, and the book is primarily the gift of his energy and his presence. He manifests the lovely face of this charming, unconventional Bengali sage simply as a way for people to become conscious of that luminous energy that’s flowing through them already, that is their very life, that is at the roots of all their highest aspirations.
“I place his stature as a paramahamsa, as a fully unfolded human being, as a central truth. One becomes invigorated by the presence of a pararnahamsa. This is the way he taught primarily. He told stories, he gave some advice, but mainly it was his presence and the playfulness of his presence which really transformed people. Ramakrishna reaches far beyond religious and theological categories. He didn’t make any claims. He was a person without claims, without any assumptions. He was in love with God and praying constantly with what he called his blissful Mother, the Mother of the Universe. He was really Her creativity, Her playfulness. He flooded the world with this energy of his love and enthusiasm.
“I’ve attempted to paint a living, breathing icon of Indian spirituality in all its richness and fullness. An icon is not just something to look at, its something to contemplate. An icon is an open door to another world, so this book also attempts to be an open door into the world that it depicts, and when one enters that world, there are different levels there. The surface level is this charming and delightful being who’s constantly lost in love of God and dancing and singing with the lovers of God, who’s entering high states of samadhi, or absorption in the One Reality. But beneath that is also a series of principles of a way of looking at the world, a way of being in the world, a way of accomodating totally different perspectives.
“For Ramakrishna, basically everything is the Mother, everything is the Mother’s will; what looks to us as terrible or beautiful, they’re all Her faces, Her manifestations. They’re for the teaching and for the liberation of souls and we have to become intuitive and take what’s right for us and just leave the other aside. As Ramprasad, the great poet of Mother Kali who predated Ramakrishna by a hundred years, Sings,
Who can tell who or what my Mother Kali really is? All the traditional systems of philosophy and theology are powerless to describe Her.
This fits Ramakrishna’s mood perfectly, but he wouldn’t make it as a statement, he would sing this with his enthralling and enchanting tenor voice and people would feel it tingling in
very cells of their being – that no one can say who or what She is. And this is liberation. This is awakening and enlightenment.
‘What I believe is the depth of this book is precisely the new paradigm that we’re all talking about and looking for and getting glimpses of from various areas. Encoded, as it were, in the depths of the life of Ramakrishna is this new paradigm, not expressed intellectually but as a living energy of flexibility that enables one to dispense with boundaries, whether it’s boundaries between different religions or boundaries between individuals or boundaries between the human and the divine. But what results is not some sort of chaotic, confused situation where everything is flowing into everything else. Each unique being retains its uniqueness, each unique tradition retains its uniqueness and yet simply there’s no sense of boundary. This is the deeper gift of Sri Ramakrishna to the modem world and to the globe itself, with implications for ecology and social justice and many other topics.
‘The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna was translated into English by my teacher, Swami Nikhilananda and published in 1942 and now it’s 1992, fifty years later. if once every fifty years Ramakrishna speaks to a culture in a dramatic and profound way, it’s worth paying attention to.”
Rejoicing in the opportunity to be a “mere straw” for the Master and his Mother, Hixon has taken on the responsibility of seeing that Ramakrishna’s newest appearance doesn’t get overlooked in the shuffle of the many books published each year. Due largely to his efforts, the book has already surpassed its publisher’s expectations in sales (one large store on the West Coast actually reported people on a waiting list to buy it), and went into its second printing a month and a half after publication date. In keeping with the joy and enthusiasm of Ramakrishna, Hixon is taking his show on the road in a colorful way and creating a promotional tour as a celebration of the Divine. This summer he and his longtime friends and fellow Ramakrishna lovers – internationally known musicians Bob Kindler, cellist, Daniel Paul, tabla, and Rose Cabanlit, vocals and electric autoharp – who comprise the music ensemble Jai Ma and play a vibrant fusion of contemporary and Indian music as a setting for Hindu and English chants, will be crossing the United States doing a combination of readings from Great Swan and concerts. The tour will culminate in a trip to India early next year, where Hixon will present Great Swan to religious leaders, scholars and intellectuals there, exactly 100 years after Vivekananda brought Ramakrishna to the West.
“Ramakrishna can be used as a kind of tuning fork,” Hixon concludes by saying, “to give the different pitches for the different spiritual paths people might walk, for the different types of ecstasy. In his life you’ll find all of them to a very exact pitch. He himself had perfect pitch musically, and it was painful to him to hear music performed off-key. So that what he does is give the pitch and then everyone can sing their own song, and by reading him, by knowing him, they can go back and correct themselves if they may have become a little flat or a little sharp.”
The Paramahamsa walks with almost supernatural speed. He is now moving east toward the main Temple Gate. The road, lined with flowering trees, is covered by red brick-dust, contrasting beautifully with the sage’s white cloth and polished black slippers. Above his head, the golden morning sun is suspended. As I stand and watch, the dynamic flgure suddenly turns bright black against the red road. It is Goddess Kali – infinite power, infinite wisdom, infinite peace, infinite delight. She is approaching the ornamental gates of Her magnificent Temple Garden. Her Devine Intensity is fully focused. The Wisdom Goddess is prepared to go forth from Her sanctuary and transform the modem world.
Lex Hixon will be available to sign copies of Great Swan on 9/ 18 at EastWest Books, 78 Fifth Avenue, New York City, from 5-6:30PM. He will do a reading from Great Swan from 6:30-7PM.
Cassia Berman is continually amazed, delighted and well provided for by the Divine Mother in her many forms, including that of Mother Kali, Who Introduced her to Lex Hixon, whose radio program had been a guiding light for her, on Kali Puja, 1988. A poet, writer, and editor who lives in Woodstock, New York, Cassia was a student of the late Hilda Charlton. She practices and teaches t’ai chi and qi gong and leads occasional writing workshops.
TRIBUTE TO A FREE SPIRIT By Cassia Berman (published in Free Spirit April & May 1996)
Lex Hixon, founder of this magazine and a spiritual friend to many died peacefully and consciously, surrounded by his family, at his home in Riverdale, New York on November 1, All Souls’ Day. He was 55. He had been in healing retreat at his home, withdrawn from what had become a busy schedule of travel and contact with his many students and colleagues, since the beginning of last year when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Lex was indeed a free spirit. He was the unique combination of an exuberant mystic in love with the divine, an initiate and practitioner of five diverse orthodox spiritual paths and an accredited scholar of the mystical traditions within the world’s, religions. He cared deeply about
Combining intellectual understanding with devotion and revelation. Author of seven books, his free translations and commentaries on central texts in the religions he practiced, written in his distinctive, poetic, luminous style, are respected for the insight and depth with which they make esoteric wisdom available to modern understanding, and are warmly appreciated by authorities in their fields as well as by the general reader.
Lex cared deeply about people. Many people, since his passing, have told how he just seemed to know who they were on first meeting and helped connect them with what they were searching for, or to connect more meaningfully with the path they were already on. He loved to help create and support communities where people could come together to honor and immerse themselves in individual traditions: he was a spiritual leader of the Masjida[-Farah in lower Manhattan, a founding member and on the board of directors of the Zen Community of New York, Naropa Institute, Tricycle Magazine, the SRV Retreat Center, and was the silent benefactor of many others. Throughout his life, he organized gatherings where people could. go beyond religious and spiritual separatism to celebrate, explore and debate in a spirit of ecumenicism. Countless people who passed through New York City in the seventies and early eighties, including the writer of this article, owe their first steps on the spiritual path to guidance they received and to connections they made from his weekly radio program on WBAI, “ln the Spirit.” Here, Lex interviewed many great spiritual teachers, as well as many seekers, in the beginning years of America’s spiritual awakening.
‘As a teacher, and in his own approach to ~the world, he combined a playful iconoclasm with a devotion to, preserving the integrity of each sacred tradition. Lex always walked the thin line between creative inspiration and tradition. Towards the end of his life he was delighted when Helen Tworkov, editor of Tricycle magazine, called him, in her introduction to his final book, Living Buddha Zen, “a conservative keeper of the Zen flame.”
Lex was born in Pasadena on Christmas Day, 1941. In an autobiographical sketch he wrote a few years ago, he spoke of growing up “in the cultural openness and wild sacred energy of southern California in a family whose philosophical keynote freedom.” Childhood friends have spoken of his sense of enthusiasm and unconventionality, which he applied with as much pointed fervor to childhood concerns as he would later to spiritual life.
He came to the East Coast as a teenager to attend boarding school and then Yale University where he majored in Philosophy, and showed early promise as a poet and flamenco guitarist. His first steps in religion came under the guidance of his college roommate’s father, Vine Deloria, a Lakota Sioux Episcopal priest, who introduced him to a non-European Christianity with roots in the Native American heritage of vision-quest. As he explored philosophy, the realm of the spiritual began to open to him, and shortly before his graduation from Yale, he petitioned to include a class in comparative religions as a part of his philosophical training. From an elective reading-list for that class, he chose The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.
In a talk he gave many years later at the Ramakrishna Mission of CuIture in Calcutta, Lex described the first encounter with the blissful, unconventional nineteenth century Indian saint, whose worship of God as Mother and demonstration that all religions spring from the same source of nondual truth were to strongly influence his life:
‘I ordered the Gospel from the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York, and I later come to know exactly where they kept these books– right near Mother’s incense, that incense with the purple wrapper that has such a special fragrance. Therefore, when I received the Gospel in the mail, it exuded a wonderful fragrance. This was the first time I ever opened a book and smelled intense fragrance. It should have made me realize this was like no other book I had ever read before… I closed my eyes and put my face own on the open book. And after that I read a few lines. The first words I saw were. “God as Mother.” They leapt off the page. I had been raised in a liberal humanist background with a smattering of Christianity. In America, we have a general Christian/Jewish culture. These traditions have no reference to the Motherhood of God. I had never personally thought of calling God “Mother.” It never even once crossed my mind… Yet I did not feel any response of skepticism to Mother Kali. I felt it was perfectly natural, It was as if all my western barriers immediately fell away, and I accepted the idea of God as Mother. Then I closed the book.”
Following graduation Lex moved to New York City to continue his study of flamenco guitar with Carlos Montoya. There he searched out the great teacher and translator of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Nikhilananda, who was a direct disciple of, Sarada. Devi wife and spiritual partner of Sri Ramakrishna.
Lex and his wife Sheila received initiation into the Sarada/Ramakrishna lineage of devotion to the Divine Mother from the Swami, and studied, traveled, and meditated with him for the last seven years of the Swami’s life.
At Swami Nikhilananda’s urging, Lex earned his Ph.D. in Religion at
Columbia University in 1976, with a specialization in Sanskrit. (During this time he also continued his musical studies learning classical Indian music under the master sarod player, Vasant Rai, who created an Indian tuning for Lex’s flamenco guitar.) In, 1971, as if given the job of carrying on Sri Ramakrishna’s message of openness to all spiritual paths through twentieth century media, he, found himself hostiing “In the Spirit.” The radio program, which continued through 1984, not only introduced his listeners to some of the greatest representatives of world traditions who visited New York City including the Dali Lama, Mother Theresa and, Sheikh Muzaffer Effendi, as well as leading American figures such as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Ram Dass, Catholic activist Daniel Berrigan, Western Zen Master Bernard Glassman, Hilda Charlton and Pir Vilayat Kharn but changed his own life as well. Some of his guests became his teachers, and his spiritual path expanded to embrace initiations into Islamic Sufism, Zen and Tantric Tibetan Buddhism.
It’s important not to forget what a pioneer Lex was in the then embryonic and marginal spiritual/new age movement. Although there were already several major teachers on the scene, and people on their own or in communities scattered across the country were following various spiritual paths and exploring ways of healing, information was not available in the mainstream as it is now. Communication happened mostly through word of mouth. Lex was constantly besieged by requests for information, and in 1977 he decided to start a publication to network all the emerging resources in spirituality and alternative healing. Free Spirit began as a newsletter with no articles, only listings. Lex did this with the enthusiasm with which he did everything. His friend Louise Riskin remembers him making all of the deliveries himself in a white van, someone always riding shotgun in the passenger seat being regaled with information as they rode along. They stopped at health food stores, restaurants, bookstores or any other place that caught his fancy to ask if he could leave some copies, plastic newspaper binders flying like streamers from the back of the van. His daughter India remembers that on the way home from making deliveries, he used to stop at a housing project in Harlem and go through the buildings, gleefully leaving a copy outside every apartment door. Allison Rich, the managing editor from 1979-81, says that during those years the newsletter grew rapidly, but when she needed to move on, and Lex felt Free Spirit had served its purpose, he wrote a farewell letter in what was to be its last issue. Paul English, then the assistant editor of a similar publication in Chicago, read the letter and called Lex to urge him not to let Free Spirit die. Paul was thinking of moving to New York and asked if Lex would consider selling the magazine. Lex gave it to him. Lex began several projects in this way, putting them in the hands of others once they were under way.
Lex began his life as a published author in 1978 with Coming Home. The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions, which grew out of material from courses he taught at the New School for Social Research and other learning centers. The book has been continuously in print since then– first with Doubleday, then with Jeremy Tarcher, most recently with Larsen Publications and is now a classic in its field, called by Ken Wilber, “Perhaps the single best introductory book ever written on the world’s great mystical traditions.”
As the new age movement gained ground and became more popular, Lex’s own energies moved from opening the field for others to concentrating himself more on the authentic practices of specific ancient sacred traditions. Initiated into the 700 year-old Khalwati Jerrahi Sufi Order of Egypt and Istanbul by Sheikh Muzaffer Effendi, Lex made the hajj, or traditional pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, with his Sheikh in 1980. On the Sheikh’s passing a few years later, Lex accepted formal responsibility, under the spiritual name Sheikh Nur al-Jerrahi, for major communities of Sufis in New York City and Mexico City, and small circles across the United States. Three books emerged from his Islamic experience: Heart of the Koran (Quest, 1988), Recollecion de la Miel (Gathering Honey, written in Spanish, published in Mexico City in 1989), and Atom from the Sun of Knowiedge (Pir Publications, 1993).
Lex and his wife Sheila were longtime students of Tibetan Buddhism, taking initiations from many great lamas. They were involved in the rebuilding of the oldest Buddhist monastery of India’s Himalayan border region with Tibet and the establishment in the United States of an important Buddhist organization. They made pilgrimages to Bodhgaya and Sarnath in India with their root lama in 1981. From his Buddhist experience emerged Mother of the Buddhas: Meditation on the Prajnaporamita Sutra (Quest, 1993). In addition, in 1983 Lex and Sheila entered a formal, three-year period of study of the mystical theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, NY, and sacramentally joined its congregation, which they continued to attend until his passing. Lex made a pilgrimage to the monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece in 1983; the unfinished manuscript based on the journal he kept while he was there was to have been his next book project.
But it was always the Rama-krishna lineage, and its connection to the ancient tantric Bengali tradition of Divine Mother worship, that was the center from which his life unfolded. (It is notable that on the lunar Hindu calendar, the day he died was Jaggadatri Puja, the festival for the form of the Divine Mother worshiped in Sarada Devi’s village in India.) Lex felt very strongly that Sri Ramakrishna’s life and teachings in the nineteenth century prepared the way for the spiritual expansion we are experiencing in our time, as well as for the rise of the feminine spirit. Lex often said that the women’s movement, in both its political and spiritual manifestations, is the mostimportant movement on the planet today, and was enthusiastic in his support of the emerging leadership by women in the various religions. It could be said that all his work was involved in uncovering the core of feminine wisdom hidden at the heart of ancient sacred traditions.
To his own surprise, in 1990 Lex spontaneously began writing dramatic dialogues which took scenes from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, incorporated material from other accounts of people who had firsthand encounters with the great master, and brought them into modern expression. The book became Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna (Shambhala, 1992), which Lex said “Holds the key to unlock all my life experiences.” It felt like a landmark to Lex, who finished it in his fiftieth year; it was published on the fiftieth anniversary of his own teacher’s translation of The Gospel, which had brought Sri Ramakrishna into American consciousness and preceded by a year the centennial anniversary of the Parliament of World Religions, the great convocation which opened this country to an influx of teachers and traditions from the east and where Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna’s emissary to the West, had won the hearts of Americans. Lex decided to devote a year of his life to Sri Ramakrishna, and traveled across America with the musicians of Jai Ma Music, reintroducing Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings through words, music and meditation to generations who had received his spiritual legacy, but many of whom had never been introduced to him. Following his American tour, Lex, his family and musicians went to India, bringing his book to Calcutta one hundred years after Swami Vivekananda had brought Ramakrishna’s teachings to the West. Lex gave talks and performances with Jai Ma Music at several Ramakrishna centers and was warmly received by the swamis, devotees and scholars there.
Sri Ramakrishna would often break into song, singing ecstatic love poems to Divine Mother Kali written by the 18th century poet and tantric initiate, Ramprasad. In the early eighties, working from a literal translation from the Bengali, Lex had begun putting these poems into modern English, and some were included as part of the text of Great Swan. A full collection of Lex’s translations, Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment, was published by Quest Books in 1994. Lex encouraged people to read them aloud, and he himself loved to hear them read in women’s voices. He would urge women to find their connection to Kali through the poems, explaining that though the poems had come through two men, they were direct transmissions from Goddess Kali and vessels of the authentic Bengali tantric tradition, the oldest unbroken living tradition of Divine Mother worship on the planet.
One of the last times I saw Lex, a little less than a year before he died, was at a performance where the Indian dancer Prema Dasara danced to the poems. Prema, Lex and members of the audience took turns reading aloud from the book. Towards the end, he could contain himself no longer, and grabbed a huge Nepali mask of Kali-long, thick, coarse black hair hanging on both sides of her face, mouth gaping wide-off the wall of the gallery, and holding the mask over his face, he himself danced as Kali while we all chanted her mantra, bringing the audience to a high point of both laughter and awe.
The final project Lex completed was publication of Living Buddha Zen, the fruit of years of koan study with his teacher and friend, Bernard Tetsugen Glassman Roshi. The book is an inspired translation and commentary on the Denkoroku, a classic Japanese text that follows Shakyamuni Buddha’s transmission of light through fifty-two generations of Indian, Chinese and Japanese masters who form the Soto Zen lineage. Lex was to have gone to Japan last October 1st to be initiated as a novice priest into the 82nd generation of that lineage, the second generation of its American branch, and was to have received dharma transmission in New York on December 8th. Although he never received the first initiation, the ceremony of dharma transmission was performed on December 8th at an interfaith memorial service held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Tetsugen Roshi told the gathering of hundreds of Lex’s friends, students and colleagues that because Lex no longer had physical form, the transmission was for all to receive.
In the last few years, Lex was constantly on the go. Not only did he complete five books, but he practically commuted from coast to coast taking care of his Sufi circles, conducting ongoing discussions on nonduality with groups in Los Angeles and Woodstock, NY. He engaged in dialogues at conferences and spiritual centers with practitioners of all paths, and promoted not only his books but the ideas in them. He felt this was crucial to understanding how to prepare the foundation for world peace and a new global culture that would no longer be based on separatism, yet would still preserve the uniqueness of each individual tradition and culture. Plans were under way for a bicoastal radio program with Dr. Mari Womack of UCLA, loosely based on “In the Spirit” but syndicated nationally, to be called “Religion on the Edge.”
At the Centennial Parliament of World Religions in 1993, Lex presented a dialogue with his friend Jonathan Granoff entitled “The Open Space Beyond Religion.” That open space was an image he would return to often in the next years when discussing the nondual basis of being, the lack of separation between oneself and the divine, or oneself and enlightenment. Diagnosed with cancer when it was already too late for western medicine to offer options, Lex chose to work with an alternative who ordered him to cease all his outward activity and draw his energy inward for healing. What was to have been a three-month healing retreat wound up lasting the remaining nine months of his life. It was difficult for him at first to stop the work he had felt so called to do in the world and withdraw from the many people who clamored for his attention. But as time went on, surrounded by his wife and four grown children who all stayed close, supporting his process, he surrendered to a peace and an inner contemplativeness he’d never been able to give himself the time for. Under doctor’s orders not to discuss religion for more than five minutes, he would watch a sunset for two hours. He seemed in his last hours, according to his wife Sheila, to have blissfully merged into light. Conscious to the end, which in many traditions is in itself the worthy achievement of a lifetime, as he left he was able to give a moment-to-moment description of what he was experiencing to his wife and three daughters who were in the room with him.
I want to close this recollection with some words about Lex as I knew him. Although I listened to his radio program for the first of its nine years when I was in the city, and from it received powerful guidance and introduction to my spiritual teacher, I never thought of meeting him. However, in 1988, 1 feel we were personally introduced by Goddess Kali. Through a series of “coincidences” having to do with Kali, I attended a puja, a ceremony for Her commemorative day, at the SRV Retreat Center in Greenville, NY, Which Lex, a founder of the center, also attended. That initial meeting was the beginning of a warm friendship in which, in his inimitable stye he did everything he could to encourage my connection and devotion to Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi and Goddess Kali.
A couple of years later, I unexpectedly walked out of the job I’d had for several years. I felt incredible relief, but wondered how I was going to make a living. The next morning Lex appeared in my house. We hadn’t been in touch for about eight months, and I live two hours from his home. He and his wife happened to be passing through town and decided to drop in on me. He had in his hands the handwritten manuscript of Great Swan, from which he’d read excerpts to me over the years, and which he’d just completed. I said, “Oh! Is that for me7?” He clutched it to his chest and said, “No! This is my only copy!” His car had been stolen in New York the week before, and even in my relatively peaceful upstate village, he didn’t dare leave the manuscript in his new car. We chatted, and within a short time, when he learned I had just become unemployed and could type, we agreed I would type the manuscript.
If I ever doubt that God works in my life, I remember that day. It was the most beautiful illustration of the teaching that you have to empty the vessel for God to fill it, because it was as though Sri Ramakrishna and Goddess Kali herself had moved into my house, and on a borrowed computer I was taking their darshan, the blessing of their presence, from a computer screen. Lex played the part in many peoples’ lives of being agent for the spiritual path closest to them to become more real and intense for them.
We worked together for a little over five years, during which he completed and published five books, and I did whatever needed to be done in relation to them. I took it for granted at the time, but in retrospect it seems amazing for someone to have published a book a year of such depth and scope, and I’ve wondered if he knew on some inner level that he had to do his work quickly.
Our work together was a luminous experience, a very unusual apprenticeship, the full gifts of which I know I can’t yet fully comprehend, but which I trust will unfold in coming years. I was already a writer and spiritual practitioner when we met, but he opened opportunities for me in both on a heightened level. He thanked me copiously for everything I did, as if I were doing him a favor; I always felt he was doing me a favor, allowing me to earn my living by immersing myself in such divine material.
We did much of our communication over the phone. Actually being with him was a dynamic, exhilarating and sometimes exhausting experience. He would appear in town like a whirlwind of light, sweeping whoever was around into some blissful adventure in nondualist philosophy and devotion to the divine. These adventures took place in restaurants, living rooms, monasteries, ashrams, and shrine rooms, but seemed to take one zooming to expansive levels of the cosmos at a high vibratory rate. (Is it any wonder that his favorite TV program was Star Trek?!) He was very loving, quietly charismatic and mischievous, with seemingly never-ending energy to meet with people and discuss teachings of truth.
Since his passing, many of us who knew him have found ourselves going through a deep grieving process. For myself, as I slowly emerge from it months later, I’m beginning to see even this as his gift, because in that dark void that no one approaches willingly, where there is always further to go, also access to that treasure chest of feminine wisdom whose mystery brought us together. I feel like he’s taken my hand and led me there, encouraging me, encouraging us all, to pick up where he left off, and say it and live it in our own ways. My sense about Lex-whether it’s the inspiration of our memory of him or the actual action of his being-is that he will go on doing on the other side what he did so magnificently on this side-supporting our beings, ever leading us to our souls’ aspirations, and helping us to achieve on this side what we came here to do. I thank him with all gratitude of my heart, and pray that we will build from his rich legacy a way to live the highest truths on Earth in an integrated way. And to do it exuberantly.
Cassia Berman is a poet (author of Divine Mother Within Me), writer and editor who lives in Woodstock, NY where she also teaches t’ai chi, qi gong, and workshops on Divine Mother spirituality.
Spiritual Adventures: Dream and Pilgrimag On The Heart of the Koran by Lex Hixon (published in The Quest 1989)
Spiritual Adventures: Dream and Pilgrimage
The Heart of the Koran presents meditations on 991 verses of the Holy Koran, the Arabic Book of Books which records in 6,666 verses the Divine Words spoken by God directly through His beloved servant, Muhammad. I have composed these interpretations of 148 Koranic passages to encourage practitioners of other sacred traditions, as well as independent students of culture, to encounter the rich meaning and uplifting beauty that Muslims on all levels of spiritual maturity experience daily as they read, chant, and pray from the Holy Scripture of Islam. A word-for-word translation of the Koran in any language cannot begin to suggest the beauty and magnitude of meaning found in the Arabic original by the devout believers, the profound scholars, and the marvelous mystics who have flowered so abundantly throughout the fourteen centuries of Islamic tradition. I have attempted in The Heart of the Koran to depart from literal, scholarly English translations and to explore in mystical and poetic language Koranic passages that clearly present the central teachings of Islam.
Sheikh Muzaffer, renowned leader of the Halveti-Jerrahi Dervish Order in Istanbul, once remarked to me that there are as many levels of meaning to the Koran as there are words, even as there are letters, in the Holy Book. This statement served as a powerful initiation into the mystery of the Koran, for from that moment my attitude toward this monumental world scripture began to be transformed. I no longer experienced the text of the Koran as a flat, two-dimensional surface, the way I had during graduate study in world religions, but as a multi-dimensional tapestry of mystical teaching.
The transition from the academic study of religion to the inward experience, or practice, of its living tradition is unique in every individual case. My own journey was not solitary but carefully guided by two powerful Islamic figures, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen from Sri Lanka and Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak from Istanbul. I assimilated subtle truths about Islam not only from these two perfected human beings but also from their Eastern and Western disciples, who form spiritual communities of great purity and intensity that demonstrate esoteric understanding in daily life. Both these Sufi Masters made comments about the manuscript of The Heart of the Koran, not primarily through words but through the mysterious gestures common among mystics. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen put the first typescript in his bed, eight years ago, as if to keep it concealed until the right time. Sheikh Muzaffer placed a later version of the manuscript on his head after my meditation on Sura 103 was translated for him, and exclaimed in Turkish, “This is the Holy Koran.”
THE PRACTICE OF ISLAM
To be Muslim in the universal sense is to be one who longs to turn completely toward the ultimate Source, in Arabic called Allah. Who is and who is not truly Muslim is a secret known only to Allah Most High. No human being can judge another concerning this most intimate experience of affirming and returning to the One Reality. The question of where a person stands along the exalted way of Islam, of whether one practices the five times daily prayer, or even which prophet one follows among the many sent by Allah, can only be a subject for dialogue between the soul and its All-Merciful Lord. There can be no compulsion or persecution in authentic Islam. Whoever affirms and longs to return to the ultimate Source of the universe is the beloved spiritual sister or brother of the true Muslim. Since every soul is a ray from the Divine Light, this longing to turn and to return is the secret essence of each person. Thus all humanity, even all creation, is Muslim.
Once the universal nature of Islam is understood as the religion natural to the human soul taught by God through prophets sent to every nation in history, we can better appreciate the beauty of the Shariah, the particular holy way of life demonstrated by the Prophet Muhammad.
The Shariah is the sharply focused dimension of Islam, where every aspect of spiritual practice and daily life is gracefully choreographed. Every movement of ablution and prayer, performing the pilgrimage, fasting, and giving alms is rich with meaning and power, for it was first made by the Prophet of Allah. Through my close friendship with Sheikh Muzaffer I have been able to glimpse the union of the two dimensions of Islam -universal, all embracing, ecstatic love, and the careful precision of a deeply sanctified and morally committed daily life. Sheikh Muzaffer demonstrated the unity of these two modes: the Haqiqah, or way of ultimate truth, and the Shariah, or path of religious discipline.
The most exalted mystical love and knowledge which perceive the whole universe constantly returning into the Source, and even entirely merged in the Source, can be profoundly expressed through the faithfulness and precision of daily religious disciplines. In the case of historical Islam, this means to live life in detail as the beloved Prophet lived it, as documented by the Holy Koran and by the Prophet’s own oral tradition. Such harmony between the vision of the all-transcending truth and the humane activity of a dedicated fife in society is the richest possible experience. This experience is, in fact, the fullness of being human. Personal and cultural being, the being of the universe, and the Source of Being are thus mysteriously integrated.
Sheikh Muzaffer was known for the radiance of spirit with which he performed the daily prayers of Islam. In the simple, powerful movements of his prostrations, which are the same movements practiced by a Muslims, there shone forth the marvelous correspondence between the open expanse of Divine Light and the responsible earthly fife of humanity. One could be awakened to a more profound understanding of Islam simply by seeing Sheikh Muzaffer at prayer in his small shop beneath the grapevines in the booksellers’ section of the Istanbul bazaar. In 1985, this Grand Sheikh breathed his last breath, forehead on his prayer carpet in prostration, while making midnight prayers in his home beside the Sea of Marmara.
The practice of the Shariah, or the path of religious discipline, links together the highest saints and the simplest believers from every Islamic culture in the world into a single family. No one can experience the refreshing ablutions and peaceful prayers of Islam without sensing the quiet elation and deep unity shared by this vast spiritual family, deep below the surface of cultural tensions. Repeating the Holy Name of Allah as one rinses the hands, mouth, nostrils, face, head, forearms, and feet three times with cool water in the traditional ablutions before prayer, one feels not only surprising physical refreshment, but also farreaching purification of thought and emotion.
To face in the direction of the holy city of Mecca, allowing the entire body and mind to flow into the prostrations of Muslim prayer, awakens the sense of plunging directly into the Divine Presence. The physical space before one disappears, and the rich blackness of the Ka’bah, the sacred shrine in Mecca, appears mysteriously to the spiritual sensibility. One is then drawn closer and closer to this imageless and radiant blackness until all forms – one’s own body as well as the universe itself – merge into the unfathomable Divine Mystery. This holy mystery is then recognized as the one Power performing the prayers and receiving the prayers, as both the act of praise and that which is being praised. Although not always experienced by the surface mind, this mystic unity is the essence of the Islamic prayers into which the whole being of the Muslim plunges five times every day, not merely to fulfill a ritual requirement but to swim joyfully and peacefully in the ocean of Divine Love. The prayers are the union of Shariah and Haqiqah, the merging of formal religious practice with the mysterious truth of unity that transcends all forms and all traditions.
During the course of the five prayer periods every day, each of which is brief but whose cumulative effect pervades life completely, the opening chapter of the Holy Koran, the Sura Fatihah, is repeated some forty times. In addition to these daily repetitions, this Sura is repeated whenever one passes the tomb of a saint, when giving thanks after a meal, or when seeking the protection of God from various physical or spiritual dangers. Over a thousand times every month, the illuminating energy of this fundamental prayer from the Holy Koran is inwardly invoked by the Muslim, until it becomes a constant ringing presence in the deeper regions of awareness.
According to the oral tradition of the Prophet, the entire power of the Koran is contained in this brief Sura, the chanting of which allows one to participate in the mysterious descent of the Holy Koran to earth, the process by which the ultimate Source transmitted Divine Words to humanity through the perfectly human body and mind of the Prophet of Allah. This mystical participation of our entire being in the descent of the Divine Words is what The Heart of the Koran attempts to illuminate for English readers in every culture of the modem world.
Early in our friendship, I was sitting with Sheikh Muzaffer one late afternoon in the ancient Bayazit Mosque of Istanbul. It was during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting which commemorates the Prophet’s own retreat to the mountain cave where he first experienced the descent of the Koran. We were enjoying together the poignant beauty of a hafiz, an Islamic cantor, singing the Holy Koran from memory, verses which he had repeated since childhood and which had become as natural to him as his own breathing. Gazing into the great domed space, radiant and peaceful, surrounded by this living revelation in pure sound, I was granted the vision of a transluscent emerald mosque, above even the highest Paradise. There were no human figures visible, only a vast Koran whose letters radiated light and whose pages turned gracefully as it spontaneously chanted itself. Later, the Sheikh confirmed to me that this had been an authentic mystical experience, not simply the product of creative imagination.
The penetration of my awareness into the deeper levels of meaning of the Holy Koran – teachings that are confirmed and safeguarded by the initiatory lineages, the mystical Orders of Islam – came initially through an exhilarating but completely natural experience which unfolded one spring morning in a peaceful house near New York City, where a large window overlooks a garden and a river.
This experience occurred one month after I had become the intimate friend of Sheikh Muzaffer. Our first encounter had been extremely powerful – a meeting of mind and heart that lasted for six days and nights. When the Grand Sheikh of the Halveti-Jerrahi Order returned to Istanbul from New York, I began to read the interpretation of the Koran by Professor A. J. Arberry and, following the instructions of my Sheikh, to repeat seven hundred times every day the central Islamic affirmation la ilaha illa’llah, signifying: “There is nothing worthy of worship other than the ultimate Source of the universe, whose most holy Arabic name is Allah.” According to the mystical tradition of Islam, this affirmation implies that nothing exists apart from Allah Most High, that every being is a ray of light and power from the ever-present Source.
During this period of spiritual preparation, I spent one evening a week with Sheikh Muzaffer’s American dervish community, drinking black tea and intensely chanting the Divine Names until dawn. I had been informed that the higher teachings in the contemplative Orders of Islam were expected to come directly through dreams. Looking back at the process, I find the only surprise was that I happened to be awake when the transcendent dream occurred.
WITH THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD
My soul departs its earthly body and is taken in waking dream to Paradise. Led by a loving guide, it discovers vast, radiant gardens filled with joyous beings of light, who are engaged in countless forms of whirling, chanting, and silent contemplation.
Though overwhelmed with the beauty of paradise, my soul wishes to understand the whole picture, and therefore asks its guide where the fires of Hell are to be found. Smiling, the guide replies: “Dear friend, there is no separate realm that you call Hell.”
My soul, steeped in the revelation of Islam, responds immediately: “But we read in the Holy Koran that those who deny Allah will suffer in Hell eternally.” The beloved guide replies firmly: “But you read again and again in the Holy Koran that Allah is all-compassionate and all-merciful. How could an all compassionate Power create a realm expressly designed for beings to suffer even for an instant, much less for eternity?”
This response startles and intrigues my soul, but it remains unconvinced. Perceiving this, the guide continues: “What is taught in the mystic tradition about the person who, even once, repeats with utmost sincerity la ilaha illa’llah -the ultimate Source alone is worthy of worship?” Joyously my soul replies: “Such a one is counted among the blessed and after death awakens immediately into Paradise.”
“Good!” exclaims the guide, “and since all souls are rays from the Divine Light, the essence of every being is this affirmation that Allah alone is worthy of worship, and all beings awaken, after the siccp of death, directly into Paradise.”
My soul is exhilarated by this profound explanation, but because of its deep commitment to the words of the Koran, it still hesitates to accept the truth that there is no separate realm called Hell. The beloved guide sees this hesitation and offers my soul the final solution to its doubt, ‘My dear friend, it is true that when a soul who bas so practiced the life of loving submission to Allah reaches
Paradise, it cannot bear the intense radiance here, so falls
asleep again and dreams of Hell. Hellfire is simply the purifying radiance of Paradise. And all dreams, even dreams of eternal damnation, are but momentary. These dreaming souls soon awaken into Paradise purified and joyously praising the A1l-Merciful One.” The explanation now complete, my soul feels the full coherence and power of this marvelous truth.
However, this mystical teaching deepens the soul’s longing to understand completely, so almost at once a profound question arises: “Revered guide, if the experience of Hell is but a dream~ may not the experience of Paradise – its dancing maidens, its flowing streams, its radiant dervishes-may not all this be a dream as well?” The guide responds with delight: “Ah, my dear, dear friend, you have guessed the secret. Paradise, too, is a dream. But it is Allah’s perfect dream, totally unlike the fragmentary and confused dreams experienced by earthly beings.”
These words kindle the ecstasy of mystical knowledge in my soul, and it realizes that this unsurpassable guide is none other than the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessing of Allah always be upon him. And in this state of holy exultation the soul becomes bold enough to question the Prophet of Allah: “Beloved guide, are you, too, a dream, telling me that Hell and Paradise are dreams?” The most excellent of guides responds instantly and with great power: “I am the dream key to the dream lock of the dream door that opens into the treasure of Divine Love, which alone is not a dream.”
Through the spiritual potency of these words the mystical door opens. My soul enters and is lost in the treasure of love. The dream of Paradise disappears. All that remains is the profound sense of Allah’s own resonance, the silent thunder of Allah, Allah, Allah. From this primordial holy sound all the universes are being born, and into it they are disappearing again.
Suddenly, my soul finds itself once more in the radiant Divine Dream called Paradise. The beloved guide takes my soul in his arms and holds it in tender embrace, saying: “Now you know that we are inseparable.” My soul looks down and sees its own form no longer as a body of light, but as a body fully composed of Divine Love. And then, hand in hand, the two who are one stroll through the radiance of Paradise, joyously praising the All-Merciful One.
The guide now leads my soul to a vast window at the border of Paradise. From here the soul can look out upon Allah’s Creation, both in its cosmic sweep and in its intimate detail. Gazing at this awesome display, my soul suddenly feels intense nostalgia: “Beloved guide, can one ever return to the created universe from Paradise?”
Smiling once more, the guide replies: “There is no separate realm which you call Creation.” Through the spiritual potency of these words, my soul perceives immediately that this is not a window but a huge spherical mirror that surrounds Paradise on all sides. When the elements of Paradise are reflected in the immense curvature of this mirror, they appear as the elements of creation. The flowing streams of Paradise, when reflected, appear as the streams of all sentient life. When the dancing maidens of Paradise are reflected, they appear as the life-bearing planets. When the dervishes of Paradise are reflected, they appear as the precious human souls. The entire universe is simply the reflection of a Divine Dream.
While contemplating this marvelous correspondence between creation and Paradise, my soul catches sight of its own earthly form, standing in a house on a spring morning, gazing across a river. “Beloved guide, I have the vivid sensation of being in two places at once.” Again smiling, the guide replies: “My dear friend, when you look at your face in a mirror, do you really imagine that you are in two places at once? Are you not always where your original form is?”
Once again the words of the guide carry initiatory power, and my soul, when it looks back to catch another glimpse of its earthly form, perceives all creation as a reflection of its own face. Overwhelmed by this realization, my soul turns to its guide only to see Paradise, and even the beloved guide himself, as a reflection of its own face. Nothing disappears. All Being, in brilliant detail, is simply perceived as one face.
Then a voice is heard emanating powerfully from the rivers, gardens, and dervishes of Paradise, as well as from all the crystal-clear facets of creation: “Do you accept this pure love in all its forms as Allah’s embrace?” And not simply my soul but all souls answer simultaneously, “Yes, forever!”
The Jerrahi dervish who translated my account of this experience from English to Turkish for Sheikh Muzaffer told me that certain secret oral teachings of his Order were clearly alluded to in the dream, confirming my own conviction that this waking dream was a mystic transmission of the way of Pir Nureddin Jerrahi, the consummate saint of love from Istanbul. Sultan Muhammad Nureddin Jerrahi disappeared from physical eyes in 1721, but continues to radiate as a powerful ray of light from the ever-present Source. I once asked Sheikh Muzaffer, who was the nineteenth leader of the Jerrahi Order in direct succession from its august founder, what special Divine Gift this saint had brought to humanity. Why had he been born? Muzaffer Efendi replied: “For love, for love, for love.” He then explained that Pir Nureddin had demonstrated the mystic way of melting, evaporating, and disappearing into Allah, only to reappear again as Divine Love itself.
Based on the guiding power and inner permission granted by this dream, I have meditated on the Holy Koran both as a teaching and as a direct expression of mystic love, Allah Most High is the Source of love. Souls are the lovers of love. Creation, which is the reflection of the Divine Dream called Paradise, is Allah’s
embrace. Helifire is the mercifully purifying radiance of Allah. The Divine Revelation shining through all the prophets is the path of love. The Prophet Muhammad is the dream key, abiding in the secret heart of all humanity, which is the dream lock. The Holy Koran, in all its mysterious facets, is the dream door which opens to the treasure of Divine Love that alone is not a dream. Upon truly hearing the Divine Words of the Holy Koran, that ultimate door opens.
One cannot present the Koran in this fashion solely through efforts of scholarship or accomplishments of poetic art, but only through the love of Allah. Divine Love and Divine Knowledge are focused through the inner guidance of the Nur Muhammad, the Muhammad of Light, the pre-existent Logos as understood by Islam. This light shines before all worlds and is manifested through the beloved Muhammad of Arabia, as through all 124,000 prophets which the Islamic tradition teaches were sent by Allah Most High, beginning with Adam and extending with perfect continuity through Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
THE ESSENCE OF ISLAM
There exists only one Supreme Source, inexhaustible Power calling Itself Allah, -ie profoundly living One, the Life beyond .-ne that never diminishes. The One Reality -tver sleeps, nor even for a moment rests Its -mbracing Awareness. To the One alone be- ngs the emanation of planetary existence and –e seven higher planes of Being, as spreading -;ys of sunlight belong to a single sun. There is being who can turn toward the Ever-Present 1)urce in prayer or contemplation except ,-rough the Power and Love that flow from -e Source Itself. Since the Ultimate Source ~-)ides beyond time, It always remains perfectly – ware of what causes precede and what results ~llow from each event. Human beings can _: rnprehend nothing of this encompassing Aware-tss save what Allah Most High transmits to .-L-m as gifts of Grace. All creation, including 7 anetary and heavenly planes, is the brilliant –irone of Allah. To sustain and protect this 3m manifestation of Divine Energy involves effort at all for the Original Source, Who is -premely transcendent and Who subsists lely as Radiance.
My beloved Muhammad, there should never be the slightest compulsion brought to bear upon any person to walk the exalted way of Islam. Allow humanity to be attracted spontaneously to Islam by its utmost clarity, for Islam simply makes clear the truth that there can be only one Source. This truth dissolves the primal error that turns away from the Ultimate Source by mistaking various limited views to be ultimate. Whoever ceases to rely on any idol, on any limited human understanding, and relies for strength solely on the limitless Source Who calls Itself Allah, has grasped the most trustworthy support, the clear and indestructible essence of Islam.
Allah Most Wise hears inwardly the spoken and unspoken prayers, and perceives intimately the open and hidden motivations of all beings. Allah Most Merciful gives the perfect guidance and full protection of His Divine Friendship to those who affirm the Source of Love with every breath. Those who live the life of constant spiritual affirmation, Allah Most High brings forth from the shadow realm of subjective impulses and limited concepts into the Clear Light of the Source. But those who turn away from the Source of Light, who for guidance and protection rely on the graven images of limitation, are drawn from the clarity of Revelation into the realm of shadows, and will inevitably experience the Splendor of Allah as blinding fire.
-meditation on Holy Koran 2:255-257
THE PRAYER OF
THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD
My beloved Messenger, please teach human beings aspiring to true humanity to pray: “Most exalted Allah, Ruler of the radiant expanse of earthly and heavenly realms, You reveal the potent secrets of Your kingdom to whomever You will, and veil them from whomever You will. As pure Divine Mystery, You elevate whomever You will and limit whomever You will. Your Hands of Power and Goodness hold whatever is needed for the development of each living being, shaping as sensitive spiritual teaching every personal and every cosmic event, for through You alone all events become possible. You alone cause the night of ignorance to disappear into the day of knowledge, and the day of human knowledge, in turn, to disappear into the night of Divine Mystery. You alone cause the living to enter the sleep of death, and You alone awaken those who have died into Your Own transcendent Life. Most precious Allah, Your constant provision for the evolution of all beings is subtle beyond any understanding.”
-meditation on Holy Koran 3:26-27
THE LIFE OF JESUS
AS REVEALED TO MARY
The angels called: “Dearest Mary, listen. Allah Most High sends you joyous news of the Divine Word, emanating directly from the Source of Love, whose mystical name is Messiah and who will be known as the noble Jesus. He will be profoundly honored in this world, and in the realm of Paradise he is eternally beloved, abiding with the most intimate companions of Love, deep within the Radiance of Allah. The Messiah Jesus will transmit truth to humanity, beginning as an infant in his cradle and continuing until he reaches manhood. He will be utterly righteous and pure of heart.”
The Virgin Mary turned directly to the Ultimate Source and prayed: “Most precious Allah, bow can I bear a child, since no man has known me?- Allah Most Merciful then awakened Mary spiritually by placing these Divine Words in her heart “My beloved Mary, the Source of Power can manifest whatever is needed to guide humanity. To project any being or event, Allah simply affirms it and it is. Through your spontaneously conceived child, the Source of Truth will confirm the truth of the Holy Torah. Through this luminous child, the Source of Wisdom will transmit the wisdom of the Holy Gospel. My beloved Jesus will declare to the People of Israel: ‘Behold, I have come with wonderful signs from the Source of Love and Power. As a child I molded from river clay the likeness of a bird. When I breathed on it, by the mysterious permission of Allah, it became a white dove that took wing before my mother’s eyes. Through me, the Divine Power heals those born blind, cleanses lepers, and reawakens those who have fallen into the sleep of death. I demonstrate the Power of Allah by knowing precisely what people have experienced, what worldly wealth they have stored in their houses, and what spiritual treasure they have hidden within their hearts. These are demonstrations of Love to turn human beings toward the Source of Love. I have come to confirm the Words of Torah that were revealed before me, and also to bring new spiritual freedom_ To give the people of Torah confidence in my Prophethood have I come with powerful signs from Allah Most Sublime. By responding wholeheartedly to me, you will be turning toward the Light of Allah. Allah alone is my Source and your Source. The direct path to illumination is to turn your whole life toward the Ever-Present Source.”‘
The Resonance of Allah continued to spring forth in the heart of the Virgin Mary: “When the noble Jesus teaches thus, he will be rejected by his people and will cry out: ‘Who will help to bear and to transmit the Truth of Allah that is flowing through me?’ The blessed apostles will respond: ‘Revered teacher, we will be your humble companions and the instruments of Allah Most High for we have surrendered our lives to the Source of Life. You can witness our submission. We believe wholeheartedly that you are sent as Holy Messenger from the Source and Goal of Being. May our names be inscribed in the Heavenly Book among those who will follow and serve the Messiah Jesus always.’
“After the bitter scheming of those who live in negation of Love been been brought to nothing by the Power of Allah, the Voice of Truth will call these Divine Words into the heart of His holy servant: “My beloved Jesus, I now draw you back into Me and exalt your being so that you may merge into My Being. I now purify and heal you from the harsh touch of those who deny that you are a messenger from the Source of Love. Be assured that I will transfigure with My Love all those who sincerely follow you and awakening from the sleep of death, they will experience the radiant resurrection of Paradise. Be assured as well that all souls will eventually return to Me to resolve the conflict and confusion of their earthly journey.”
-meditation on Holy Koran 3:45-55
TORAIL GOSPEL, AND KORAN
The Supreme Source sent Jesus, son of My beloved Mary, to walk the noble way of all the Prophets, those deeply cherished guides of humanity. Through the Prophet Jesus, the Source of Wisdom transmitted the Radiant Gospel, full of the same Light of Truth that streams through the Living Torah, resonant with warning and guidance for those who turn with purity of heart toward Allah Most Sublime. The people of the living Gospel, called Christians, can continue to live wisely in the light of the Revelation granted to them through My beloved Jesus. Only those are turning away from Allah Most High who abandon the wisdom that flows to their own people, through their own Prophets, from the Source of Wisdom.
The Eternal Source now reveals through you, My beloved Muhammad, this sublime Book of Truth, which confirms and safeguards the essential teaching of the Torah, the Gospel, and all the other authentic scriptures that existed before them. Thus Jewish and Christian traditions should be accepted reverently in the light of the Glorious Koran that descends gracefully through you. But you should not accept any teachings or practices of these earlier traditions which have sprung from limited human conceptions, or which contradict the clear principles of Truth revealed through the Holy Koran.
The Source of Life has shown the Prophets of all nations harmonious ways of life and open gateways into the Radiance of Allah. The Source of Power could have united all peoples into a single nation, but Allah Most Merciful has chosen to manifest His Truth through various sacred traditions as teaching and testing for human beings.
If each spiritual nation practices faithfully the path revealed through its own Holy Prophets, then all humanity will return together to the Source of Love. When time ends, on the Day of Truth, Allah alone will clarify the variations and contradictions among historical traditions. While abiding on the earthly plane of Being, evaluate the paths of Torah and Gospel in the light of this Living Koran that the Resonance of Allah is reciting through you. My beloved, never allow your people to be drawn away from the fundamental principle of Divine Unity by contrary teachings that other traditions may maintain. These are human distortions of previous Divine Revelations that remain essentially pure.
-meditation on Holy Koran 5:49-52 N
Visions of the Goddess Ram Prasad’sTantric Hymns of Enlightenment (published in Light of Consciousness 1994)
Published in Light of Consciousness
The Great Mother is humanity’s most primordial, pervasive, and fruitful image of reality. Either secretly or openly, she appears with extraordinary power, wisdom, and tenderness at the core of every noble culture. She illuminates the entire universe, because she is not some local or limited goddess but our Universal Mother. She expresses herself fluently through and within every sacred tradition, without needing to call attention to her feminine nature.
In 1966, 1 received initiation in the Divine Mother tradition of India, as practiced by the extraordinary adepts of Mother Wisdom, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sarada Devi, who lived in nineteenth-century Bengal. I was attracted to this radiant couple by an amazing document, The Gospel
of Sri Ramakrishna, first published in English in 1942. Here I first encountered God, or Ultimate Reality, addressed and experienced as Mother. Having been raised in the environment of Jewish-Christian culture, where the root metaphor for approaching the Divine is masculine, my immediate response was surprised delight at the naturalness and evident power of the feminine metaphor.
Almost thirty years ago, when I was in my early twenties, the seed of Ramakrishna’s mystical intimacy with the Mother of the Universe was transmitted to me in the traditional Hindu ceremony of initiation, conducted by Swami Nikhilananda, a direct disciple of Sarada Devi, the fully enlightened wife and powerful successor of Ramakrishna. Embraced within this fresh, vibrant lineage of spiritual transmission, I was presented directly with the Wisdom Goddess and with modes of contemplation most suited to appreciating and communing with her. Now I can approach and envision the Great Goddess naturally, as if I had been raised since childhood in the Divine Mother tradition of Bengal, which centers around the beautiful black Warrior of Wisdom, the swordbearing Kali of the noble Tantra-not destructive and dark, but blissful and brilliant.
Various feminine expressions of the Divine abounded in the ancient world. The many authentic appearances of Virgin Mary-at Tepeyac in Mexico, Fatima and Gerabondal in Spain, Lourdes in France, and contemporary apparitions in Egypt, Yugoslavia, and America-are special revelations of her reality for the modern world. Through the Goddess tradition, alive everywhere on the planet, she guides, protects, terrifies, chastens, heals, liberates, and illuminates. Her relation as Great Mother to the cosmos and its innumerable life forms is as tender as her relation with each precious human soul. It is a relation so intimate as to be free from subject or object, that is to say, a relationship which is intrinsically mystical.
From the most simple, basic point of view, for several years during infancy and early childhood, both female and male children relate in essentially the same mode and with the same intensity to the mother love at the core of their daily existence. The one we call father is at first simply mother number two, with bearded or abrasive face. Every longing is for mother. All sustenance is mother. Even the infant’s landscape, before and after birth, is simply mother. For nine months, her heartbeat is our rhythm, our primal music. This is the original ground, prior to gender differentiation and sharp individuation, to which Goddess tradition gives us access, not as an infantile regression but as the fruitful soil of reconciliation, harmony, tenderness without boundary, unitive wisdom, and totality. That the great Indian poet of the Mother, Ramprasad, blossomed through a male body only shows that the ecstatic sensitivity, the all-embracing heart, the merciless honesty and diamond courage of Mother’s most intimate companions are not fundamentally dependent on the biologically and culturally conditioned abstractions, masculine and feminine.
The basic cry of Ramprasad is Ma! Ma! Ma! What child is not crying out something like this, wherever she or he may be on the planet or in planetary history? Is not Mother Reality always at the core of human experience, at the center of our spiritual hunger and thirst, and therefore at the heart of our integrity? Can we keep the Universal Mother as the central focus of our daily awareness, as the basis of a new global civilization?
Goddess tradition is much richer than any stereotypical notion of mother worship. Its practitioners are not interested in projecting a cosmic mother figure any more than they would project a cosmic father figure. The goal of spirituality is to realize truth, not to engage in projection and fantasy. Through Ramprasad’s songs, the Goddess reveals herself as Woman Warrior, Teacher, Mother, and Consort. In different moods, she appears youthful, ancient, or ageless. These are actual dimensions of experience which can be entered by her devotees. She is divine creativity, evolutionary energy, timeless awareness, transcendent reality, and, in a special tantric sense, she is every woman. She constitutes the feminine principle within male and female persons and also manifests the gender-free feminine-self-luminous Mother Wisdom, nondual awareness and bliss.
The universe in all its living detail appears vividly within the oneness or wholeness of blissful Mother Reality. Goddess Wisdom reveals all events, patterns, and meanings, including entire cultures and religions that cross cultural borders, as transparent to her, embraced within her: “All forms appear and disappear only within the formless mystery of Mother. 0 Goddess, nothing exists except your bliss, your illumination, your play, and your names.” This openness to her mystery leads to the supreme insight: “This is the dawning of enlightenment, the awakening to nonduality. Her form and every form are now blending into one radiant blackness. 0 mind, despise no being, reject no path. See all in her and her as all.”
Mother Reality remains forever beyond words and concepts. She is basic indefinability yet reveals herself abundantly in every culture through poets and saints, who are windows for humanity. Seldom is one person strong enough to receive the double vocation of poet and saint. Such was Ramprasad, who lived his invisible life of communion and union with the Goddess while surrounded by his extended family, working as a common clerk in eighteenth-century Bengal.
Ramprasad’s descriptions of the Goddess-whom he addresses as Ma Kali, Ma Tara, and simply as Mother or Ma-are not just rehearsals of traditional imagery but the profound elucidation of that imagery by the Wisdom Goddess, appearing to her poet and speaking through him. Warrior Goddess Kali is not human imagination running wild but an authentic self-revelation of Ultimate Reality, poured forth over many centuries in the tantric kingdom of Bengal and refocused through the refined perception of Ramprasad. Contemplating the awesome form of Goddess Kali, which always remains transparent to formless awareness, the human psyche is thoroughly shaken, purified, clarified, elevated, liberated, and illuminated. She is not a projection from our personal or collective psyche, as the modern world view would have us believe. She is the psyche in its wholeness, as she is the entire creation. And she is divine creativity which beings creation forth, moment by moment, as pure play or display. The way of Mother Wisdom, always marked by playfulness and surprise, is the gradual realization of her indivisible wholeness, which is our own essential nature, timeless awareness.
Mother of the Universe,
I have no desire to exercise power.
I would not even care to be an emperor.
Sweet Mother, please grant me
two simple meals each day
and wealth enough to thatch the palm roof
of my clean earthen house,
where I offer dreaming and waking
as red flowers at your feet.
My green village dwelling is the abode
of your golden radiance, 0 Goddess.
What need have I for more elaborate construction?
If you surround me with the complex architecture
of stature and possession,
I will refuse to call you Mother ever again.
0 Kali, give me just enough to serve lovingly
whatever guests may visit me.
Plain metal plates and cups will do.
Daily existence in the heart of my extended family
is the worship beyond worship
that perceives Mother Reality
as every being, every situation, every breath.
I will never leave this natural way of life
to become a stern ascetic
or a teacher honored by the world.
There is only one longing this poet’s soul
declares over and over:
“Mother! Mother! Mother!
May every moment of my existence
merge completely with your essence.”
Who in the world can know what Mother Kali really is? She is beyond the reach of every scripture,
every system of philosophy.
As the radiant blackness of divine mystery,
she plays through the lotus wilderness of the sacred
The practitioner of meditation encounters her power
deep in the blossom of primordial awareness
and within the thousand-petal lotus
that floats far above the mind.
Kali is the conscious core,
shining through every awakened sage
who delights in oneness.
This has been demonstrated by countless realized
Ma Tara is the queen of freedom within all hearts.
She reigns timelessly and tenderly.
Planes and dimensions of being
more vast and subtle than anyone can imagine
are found within her womb of encompassing
The Goddess alone knows the extent of her power.
Who else could possibly know?
Laments the singer of this mystic hymn:
“Everyone will laugh at my attempt to swim
the shoreless sea of her reality,
but my soul belongs to her and my heart delights in
I am a child reaching out to catch the moon.”
Ma Tara, you are truly the exalted one,
the essence of awareness.
But are you aware of the foolish poet
who sings this song?
You are indeed the radiant truth,
the sun that dissolves like morning mist
the illusory suffering of conscious beings.
But what about my persistent misery?
Revelatory experience flows to devout practitioners
from the Mother of the Universe,
but consider what Mother bestows on me.
During morning meditation, I worry about livelihood.
At noon prayer, I think about delicious food.
While practicing contemplation in the evening,
my mind wanders at random among events of the day.
Goddess Tara, I ask you frankly,
will you ever allow this distracted consciousness
any sustained vision of your reality?
The only visionary gift granted me
is the viewpoint of arbitrary convention.
In this fascinating vision, I am constantly absorbed.
The deeper I plunge into thought,
the more I realize I cannot know you by thinking,
0 blissful Mother, beyond speech and mind.
This desperate seeker of truth cries out:
“Ma! Ma! Ma!
Daughter of the mystic mountain!
You dance, holding the brilliant gem of realization.
But when I try to grasp
the diamond essence of awareness,
it appears to turn back into common stone.”
0 longing mind,
consecrate your being to pure love.
Turn every thought to Goddess Tara.
She will bear you tenderly across the raging sea
of separation and individuality.
Be utterly dedicated to her reality.
Cry aloud Ma Kali, Ma Kali.
Know that she can clarify
the inconceivable maze of relativity.
To hope for assistance and guidance through this world
from wealth, relatives, and religious rites
provides no profound solution.
Have you forgotten that everyone is lost?
Where are you now? Why are you traveling?
This cosmos is the strange theater where souls act,
wearing various costumes and disguises.
This intricate play of transparent energy
is initiated, sustained, and dissolved by Kali,
who is the dream power of Absolute Reality.
At this very moment, you are resting
on the vast lap of Mother’s cosmic dream
that you misperceive
as the narrow prison of suffering.
Why abandon the kingdom of awareness
to obsession with self and disdain for others,
to hollow passion and abject clinging?
You are creating a disease without a remedy.
The brief day of your earthly life is almost over.
Meditate now on beautiful Black Tara.
She is seated upon the jewel island of essence
in the transparent sea of ultimacy.
This poet sings drunkenly:
“Tara! Tara! Tara!
Your name is ambrosia.
May all beings enter the secret sanctuary
through this name,
tasting your unique sweetness,
I have a serious grievance to settle
with the Mother of the Universe.
Even while apparently awake,
with you as my all-protecting Mother,
the house of mind and body
is ransacked by robbers,
my countless egocentric impulses.
Every day I resolve to repeat your name
as the most powerful defense,
but forget my good intention
just as the intruders arrive.
I have caught on to the playfulness,
0 Mother, by which you elude my willful grasp.
You bestow no power of inward prayer upon this child,
so you receive no consistent devotion from me.
I no longer regard this as my fault.
Only what you give me can I return to you
as the sweet offering of divine remembrance.
Fame and infamy, good and bad tastes of life,
all phenomena are your graceful play.
Yet as you dance in ecstasy,
we are thrown into quandary.
0 Goddess, lead us on your wisdom way.
This poet dares to sing her secret:
“Mother Mahamaya places a twist in every mind,
making it perceive the ashes of egocentricity
as an abundance of candy,
which it tastes with constant disappointment
and shocked surprise.
Awaken now and be free.”
The TRANSCENDENT UNITY OF SACRED TRADITIONS: EXAMINING THE NATURE OF ENLIGHTENMENT An Interview with Lex Hixon (published in Science of Mind 1989)
An Interview with Lex Hixon, Ph.D.
THE TRANSCENDENT UNITY OF SACRED TRADITIONS:
EXAMINING THE NATURE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Science of Mind: You’re a practicing mystic. What spiritual traditions have you studied?
Lex Hixon: “At present, I am actively involved in four traditions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. However, I can’t claim to have plumbed the depth and richness of any of these traditions. I am just a very small point in them.
“I was born into a Christian environment, but my experience indicates that ultimately there is no separate membership in the different traditions. There is only the Great Tradition, which has many names. The notion of separate membership applies a social criterion to something which is mystical, an affair of the heart.”
What have you found to be the central truth of all these traditions? Can you describe it in a word or a phrase, such as “enlightenment”?
Hixon: “I used that word in my first book, Coming Home, which is subtitled ‘The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions.’ So, yes, enlightenment is an appropriate – word.
“Yet as one advances spiritually, one is less and less able to give any simple answer to questions about the Divine Mystery, although I do see all the traditions as transparent to the truth. In other words, the truth shines through them, even if it caret be put into words, ultimately.
“Truth is not something which one can state completely. The saints of all traditions spent their lifetimes attempting to describe or turn people toward the ineffable truth. To say that we could state what the central truth is would, I think, be oversimplifying the richness of the traditions – almost abandoning them.
“The American Zen master, Bernard Glassman, wrote a book called The Hazy Moon of Enlightenment in which he indicated that the haziness, or the mystery, of a full moon that isif t quite clear in the sky is more profound than a clear glimpse of the moon itself. In Sufism, some of the adepts talk about entering states of bewilderment rather than clarity. If one thinks of spiritual enlightenment in terms of clarity or some sort of final answer, then one is still attached to limited ways of knowing. So this light which floods the mind and heart at the very center of all traditions and which, you might say, even is the nature of reality itself, does not produce an experience which is simple or easily communicable or categorizeable.”
You used the word Light to indicate the ultimate nature of reality. Will you please expand on what that means?
Hixon: “Today is a very cloudy autumn day, yet without any electric lights, I’m able to read and write. The sun, which is not even visible to my eyes, is still providing me with enough light so I can function in all sorts of ways. Similarly, all the activities of human life are made possible by the light shed abundantly by Reality itself. All our intellectual efforts, all our science, all our ethical commitments are made possible only by this spiritual light. In that sense, you can say that everyone in the world is experiencing some of this enlightenment.
“In the case of the mystic, the clouds are parted and a direct vision of the sun occurs. In his dialogue, The Republic, Plato talks about the myth of the cave. We’re like prisoners in a cave, with our backs to the sun, and all we see are shadows. Now and then someone comes out of the cave and sees the sun directly. Having seen the splendor of the sun, that person sometimes has difficulty going back into the cave – that is, into the conventional world – .and functioning there. So the mystic, who sees directly, sometimes becomes incapacitated in dealing with and enjoying the ordinary world.
“The most advanced mystics I know of, in all the traditions, are people who are capable of seeing that naked sun, that naked Divine Radiance, without being blinded or incapacitated. They are able to function joyously even in the tiniest details of life by understanding that every single detail of one’s being and existence itself is enlightened by that primal light. The Christian liturgy speaks about Christ as the light that enlightens every soul who comes into the world. So human life itself is already enlightened and we shouldrft feel that enlightenment is some sort of special state that one or two mystics have experienced while the rest of us are living in darkness.
“When one studies and experiences the mystic traditions, one begins to appreciate human life more and more. One begins to appreciate the omnipresence of divine life, the extraordinary perfection of the design of creation which allows this divine light to constitute and to permeate every cell, every atom of the creation. The Koran says that as the bird opens its wings in flight, it is praising Allah. And it goes on to say that every motion of the creation is praising the source of creation.”
Have you met the same idea expressed in other great traditions?
Hixon: “I mentioned Christianity and Islam. In Buddhism, the highest level of experience is tlie disappearance of the distinction between the absolute and the relative so we no longer think of the ultimate truth as being somewhere else – a realm which is spacious and full of light – and ordinary existence as being very cramped and obscure. For the Buddhist sage and also for the Confucian sage, there is no absolute distinction between activity and meditation. They are part of the same reality”
And that’s expressed in the ancient Buddhist saying, “Nirvana is samsara, samsara is nirvana.”
Hixon: “Right. Nirvana or ultimate reality is not essentially different from samsara or the ordinary, everyday world. I’m studying a book called Confucian Contemplation, written by an old friend, Rodney Taylor. Confucian thought influences all East Asian cultures very deeply. In the book he interviews a contemporary Japanese Confucian scholar who practices the quiet sitting of the Confucian tradition. He points out that in Confucianism, action and contemplation’ must become each other. The difference between them must disappear. It is a model for moral action and contemplative quietude being unified.”
So there is a transcendent unity to world religions and sacred traditions, though they express their understanding of what you call “the great mystery” in different terminology or metaphors.
Hixon: “If I were to answer in an academic framework, I would say that is correct. But, again, speaking as a practicing mystic, I caiYt even see that there are different traditions. There is simply one reality and we must go beyond the idea of dialogue between the great traditions, as useful as that is at one level, to the, very reality from which the traditions arise.”
Nevertheless, in some sense, there is a clear distinction among the traditions.
Hixon : “Of course. For instance, a person might come to me and say,’You’re Caucasian and I’m Asian! We certainly could recognize that we come from different races and cultures but that wouldift affect us at all as far as feeling we are both human beings. Mystics reach the level of awareness at which they feel there is absolutely no distinction between themselves, even though they belong to very different religions, just as an Asian and a Caucasian would not see any distinction between themselves as human beings. The Asian might return to his culture and the Caucasian to his, without thinking that either culture should disappear or that they should somehow merge the cultures to make something else.”
So there is a unity underlying the multiplicity and diversity of forms.
Hixon: “When one says there is a unity underlying diversity, one implies there are two levels to reality. There is the level of diversity and underneath it is unity. This is the kind of dualism from which the mystic is gradually emancipated.”
But for someone who has not yet realized that fact, the duality can at least be acknowledged. For instance, it is done in terms of the notion of esoteric and exoteric forms of religion.
Hixon: “I disagree with the analysis of religion as esoteric and exoteric. It is like splitting religion right down the middle. You can’t say that religion contains mere dogmas on one level and high mystical experiences on the other. Religion is a unified body, with all its structures and functions in harmony. When I practice a tradition, such as Tantric Buddhism, I would never think of proceeding without having the initiations necessary to pursue a certain practice. It’s the same with the other traditions. There’s no sharp distinction between the externals of a religion and the internals of that religion. They are interdependent and both are necessary.”
Isn’t the statement from the Bible about the difference between the letter of law and the spirit of the law applicable here?
Hixon: “Yes, and there is indeed a difference between the letter and the spirit. But we also must realize that the letter and the spirit of the law are complementary. Let’s look at law. As far as I can see, nature has certain patterns. We can discern their operation in the universe. They seem to be fluid and flexible to some degree and yet there is a kind of strictness in the way they function. In the same way, each religion is like a universe. The laws within that universe function very strictly, even though there is flexibility also. Someone who enters a religion has to be ready to submit to the organic laws functioning there. It is not just a matter of personal interpretation – whatever you want or whatever you think is best. There is objective truth and there is objective functioning of laws. There are also certain things which are just not permissible. There are certain mistakes for which you have to seek some sort of purification or repentance to clear yourself. So I think it is misleading to talk as if we can dispense with the letter of law and just have the spirit of the law.”
Most people feel their particular sect or denomination is better, than others. They tend to look down on all the rest with some degree of superiority, and the result is religious intolerance and even open warfare. How can one get beyond that narrow sense of identification with religion to the deeper truth of it, without having to let go of one’s religious roots?
Hixon: “That disharmony is regrettable but may be very natural. I doift see in nature or in human life any place where there’s just clear sailing without conflict. We should not, in the name of mysticism , withdraw from the realm of conflict and try to make a utopia where there are no differences of opinions and no serious conflicts of values. I think there are serious conflicts of value.”
How do the advanced mystics feel about traditions other than theirs which are recognized as having similar levels of accomplishment?
Hixon: “There is no question that great religions have often felt of a sense of superiority over all the others. Advanced Islamic saints or advanced Buddhist saints will most likely feel that their tradition is somehow superior to all the other traditions. It’s not that they feel the other traditions have no truth or could not be a vehicle of spiritual development, but they feel they have gottew where they are because of the unique clarity or unique power of their own tradition. So it’s a misconception to think that advanced spiritual mystics do not feel the superiority of their particular tradition over other traditions.”
Do they, at the same time, reverence all other traditions?
Hixon: “Not necessarily. Some of them have highly critical attitudes about the other traditions.”
One can be critical but nevertheless reverent.
Hixon: “Some highly evolved people I’ve met are very reverent toward all the traditions; it seems to be their nature. Others, however, don’t have that particular nature. They are more critically oriented and feel that some sort of critical dialectic is necessary to clarify the mind so, as not to fall into what they consider to be ~dangerous misconceptions held by other traditions.”
But without raising a weapon in combat to force their ideas and traditions, religious or otherwise, on others.
Hixon: “I would hope at this point in history, when there are few official -state religions, that religion will not be forced on people politically. But this is something human nature is prone to, and there is still a danger that some state – Christian, Islamic, or any other – might attempt to force its religion on another state or its own citizens. Marxism, which is a quasi-religion, is an obvious example.”
Let’s explore some of the characteristics of those who truly apprehend the Great Mystery, regardless -of which tradition they come from. What do you see as qualities of mind and heart, and behavior which indicate enlightenment, God-realization, or whatever term might describe an experience of the transcendent unity of religions?
Hixon: “Just as I said earlier about -being reluctant to characterize central truth itself, similarly, as I have more and more experience, I hesitate to characterize what a holy person or a totally integrated person would be like or act like. There seems to be an infinite diversity of possibilities. Part of the narrow-minded ne s s you are legitimately concerned about would be the narrow-mindedness of traditions which say a holy person is someone who is celibate, doesift smoke, doesif t’eat meat, etc. That really is imposing the ideals of, a particular tradition on another tradition. There are saintly people who are warriors or scientists, revolutionaries or supporters of the status quo. St * Paul said that slaves should remain. slaves and not seek their emancipation.”
In your use of the term “saintly people,” I sense some concept of virtuous behavior that presumably would be discoverable in all the great traditions.
Hixon: “It is tempting to try to reduce. sainthood to some description we could all agree on, but I think we have to resist that temptation and allow the exploration of spiritual reality to be free and open. I feel that an enlightened person, whatever his or her external behavior, will be a blessing to the world. I’m reluctant to restrict how they should behave.”
Can you name any qualities as hallmarks of enlightenment – for example, compassion, selfless service, discriminating wisdom?
Hixon: “Let’s take compassion. Without a doubt, compassion is a primary characteristic of enlightenment. But compassion is expressed in many ways. To a child who is being forced to stay after school to do homework, this might seem like a great lack of compassion on the part of the teacher. Of course, the teacher may be extremely compassionate and may be making a lot of personal sacrifices to try to help the child along in his studies.
“The prophetic traditions tell us that God is infinitely compassionate and yet we see a world which is full of terrible things, so we have to assume this is somehow an expression of God’s compassion. We see, as Job finally concluded, that God’s ways are totally beyond human ways. So we must resist the temptation to put into reasonable human language this Great Mystery or the people who have tasted this Great Mystery and have become transformed by it. I think what we have here is precisely a mystery. And my way of safeguarding against the narrow-mindedness you are concerned about is to keep this mystery open.
“You might very well ask then: How do we deal with charlatans or people who make spiritual claims but who doiYt have anything really to back them up? I would answer that there is very little way to defend against.these people.”
Should they be allowed to operate without restriction or punishment if they take advantage of people or violate.their trust or cheat them of property – things of that sort?
Hixon: “If you get them on tax evasion or professional malpractice, you can bring them into the norm of social and civil law. Then, of course, they have to stand up to the same strict standards everyone else has to stand up to in society. But as far as legislating holiness, it carft be done. The spiritual path is as dangerous and as narrow as a razor’s edge.
“So religion is an area of great risk in a persoifs life. How do you find a marriage partner? How can you trust someone you fall in love with? Well, sometimes it doesht work out; sometimes you have to get a divorce. But you doift necessarily take that person to court because you feel the person used you or represented himself in false colors. It is an affair of the heart. So, too, with religion, which is ultimately an affair of the heart. The more restrictions and safeguards you put on religion, the more danger there is of institutionalizing it entirely and then losing the spark and mystery of it.”
How do the people you’ve spent time with show their realization of tlW Great Mystery? What are some of the notable qualities you observed in them?
Hixon: “Id have to say the boldness and richness of their humanity, of being human. Any quality one might admire about a person who is a real human being is just intensified in the saintly person. So it turns out that we are not running away from our humanity when we become mystics. We are really running toward our humanity. We are not becoming superhuman beings; we are simply becoming human beings.”
Well, human beings show a great range of emotion, from a mother’s tenderness toward her child to a raging madman7s anger and violence. Is the latter also intensified in saints?
Hixon: “Some of the saints I’ve known have had a tremendous temper. The idea that a saint has to be sweet and mild all the time is a misconception. I’ve seen saints who scold their disciples fiercely. But the difference is that in the saint, such behavior comes from compassion and it somehow is healing for the person who receives it. Saints show the full range of human emotion. The prophet Mohammed, for instance, often visited all his nine wives in a single night before going on pilgrimage, so the idea that a saint cannot be sexual or cannot have that kind of intense loving human experience is also a false conception.
“To give you another example, Roman Catholic Christianity accepts the idea that priests should be celibate. Actually, this is an idea that was introduced in the eleventh century as a form of discipline. In the earlier days of Christianity, when the Church was new, the bishops were married. One of things that qualified them as bishops was that they were married men who could keep their households in harmony and therefore they were qualified to keep a spiritual community in harmony.
“Now, if you talk aboutMohammed’s nine wives to someone who was raised in a Catholic context of celibate priests, he would probably think Mohammed wasrit really a propbet but a madman. Whereas we know that Mohammed was one of the most exquisite of all the prophets~. Now, fourteen centuries after his passing away, his community consists of a billion people, so there is no question that he was a real prophet. As you said earlier, if someone has been raised in a particular religious framework, he is likely to be very narrow-minded about other types of spiritual manifestation.”
Then let me ask what may be the central question in exploring the notion of diverse traditions which nevertheless have the same truth at their heart. Is the loss of narrowm mindedness and dogmatism characteristic of a saint?
Hixon: “When you say narrow-mindedness and dogmatism, you are using two negative terms. But must the processes we’re discussing be viewed as negative? As I said earlier, a saint or a realized person may retain a hypercritical attitude toward practices of other traditions or even practices in his or her own tradition which.seem to be a -distortion. So two Islamic saints or two Buddhist sages could seriously disagree with each other on very key points in their own tradition. Hopefully, they would not resort to violent means to settle the disagreement, but short of that they would use every bit of personal power and verbal facility to uphold their point of view.”
That’s formalized in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, where debate between novices in training is a common practice. Likewise, Christian priests and ministers in seminary are taught argumentation and rhetoric in order to defend their faith.
Hixon: “Yes. And that suggests something about the value of a rigorous exploration of spiritual ideas. For instance, in the New Age movement today, almost anything goes in the name of spirituality, no matter how foolish or dangerous it may be.
“And though I’ve just said that I’m against restrictions and prohibitions in the practice of religion, I must say clearly that the traditions state – and my personal experience confirms – that you can make mistakes about spiritual matters and that these mistakes can and should be refuted. The question becomes then: Whose refutation do you accept? Whose authority? Debates inside, say, the Buddhist tradition, are one thing, but to have a debate between the traditions in which, let’s say, Buddhism refutes Christianity or Christianity refutes Buddhism, is untenable. The refutation is really not valid because it is not based on a shared set of laws or shared principles of logic. The different traditions, you might say, have different logics. Therefore, I caif t see how it is possible to have a valid debate between traditions. Each will refute the other one, according to its own logic.”
You’re an academic and a spiritual practitioner, familiar with a broad range of religions and sacred traditions. Have you found commonalities which can be used to validate the legitimacy of a tradition – any tradition?
Hixon: “I think we have to rely on our humanity. As human beings we have a sense of truth, a sense that there is truth. We have a sense that there is such a thing as, say, the dignity of being. No matter what tradition we’re in, no matter what culture we’re in, we have various deep feelings and we should stick with our human feelings. If our conscience bothers us about something, then we should reject that thing. If we feel that a particular quality in a person is attractive, if we feel it radiates beauty and joy, then we should accept it.
“In order for us to make these kinds of evaluations, our feelings, our sentiments, have to be educated. Take someone who is a wine taster. When he was a child, he probably took his first sip of wine and spit it out, feeling that it tasted terrible. So a wine taster has to be educated into the taste of wine and how to differentiate between good wine and bad wine. Likewise, our feelings must be educated. That’s why we should enter some path of spiritual practice – to refine ourselves, to refine our sensibilities to the point where we can really discriminate between what might be a very fine vintage or a poor vintage in a particular religious tradition.”
In my own survey of sacred traditions and world religions, I see two things held in common. The first is some form of what can be called the Golden Rule. The second is what you just touched on, namely, some form of spiritual discipline. They have both a theory and a practice intended to humanize people – to reduce the violence and the bloodshed and the egotism through experiential realization of the Divine.
Hixon: “I agree with your analysis. And for that reason, I think religious traditions are absolutely essential for the future of humanity on this planet and, through the instrumentality of what you just described, they offer the only way powerful enough to turn around the divisiveness and destructiveness of human beings. Some people point out how many have been killed in the name of religion. I doift deny that, but if you just add up the numbers of people that Stalin and Hitler executed – these were men who had no religion, who had no religious restraints and no religious vision – it would far exceed the number of people who have been killed in all religious wars in history. So rather than looking upon religion as something from the childhood of humanity that we can dispense with now in favor of some rational, scientific international diplomacy, human beings should reexamine the possibility that religion as a training and as a transcendent expression of our unity is the way of the future.”
“Religion is the way for future peace and harmony on the planet. The age of science has ended and the age of religion has begun. That doesift mean science worft go on finding very interesting things, but the time has passed when human beings should define themselves in terms of science. We should now think of ourselves as visionary and elevated and transcendental beings in terms of religion. As religion unfolds, it will continue to need bishops, swamis, and rabbis, and all the rich particularities of the traditions will continue to exist. But somehow all of this has to become transparent to the reality of religion itself, to the reality of transcendent vision as being the way humanity should envision itself and go forward together in the future.”
So in the “new age” or “new aeon,” there will continue to be a multiplicity of traditions and sects and denominations.
Hixon: “Yes, and this multiplicity should be seen as healthy and natural and very positive. The fact that certain charlatans may creep into the picture shouldrft upset us or terrify.us. We just have to keep our efforts at discrimination going simultaneously with our sense of tolerance and openness and, gradually, like weeding a garden, we’ll learn to pull out the weeds and leave the flowers to grow. And that will enable us to distinguish genuine spiritual traditions from the inauthentic.”
THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM- Divine Reality According to a Sufi Master By Lex Hixon (published in Yoga Journal November-December 1979)
By Lex Hixon
Published in Yoga Journal November-December 1979
Last spring I was present in New York City at a meeting between some future-conscious psychiatrist and psychologists from Mount Sinai Hospital and one of the foremost Moslem dervish sheikhs living today, Muzzaffer Effendi from Istanbul. The conversation centered on the power for healing, integration, and illumination— necessary to both doctor and patient— which can be provided which can be delivered by religious faith and practice. Today, many perceptive members of various helping professions are recognizing— not just personally but as part of their professional perspective— that religious practice may be an essential factor in the physical and psychological health and balance of the human being. This represents an important reversal of the prevalent attitude which regards traditional religious commitment as some form of weakness rather than as the source of healthy balance and resilient strength which it clearly is to millions of human beings in all cultures on the planet.
The tact remains, of course, that religious authority can be misused and that religious traditions tend to become mechanical and impotent on their surfaces. So the question becomes: How are we to get in touch with the profound and authentic sources of faith and practice? A perennial myth, strengthened by attitudes of modern psychology, suggests that we can go directly to the spiritual resources deep within ourselves, without undergoing any of the training, practices, and sacrifice- required by the various sacred traditions. This nontraditional approach may work for a few highly motivated seekers, but most spiritual seekers, even when they are highly evolved the rich language and warm communion of practitioners that we call a “sacred tradition” to be the best ambiance in which to live their spiritual lives, compassionately awakening and guiding others to a deeper and deeper experience of healing, integration and illumination.
The New York psychiatrists and psychologists approached Sheikh Muzaffer as a Sufi master, an adept in esoteric techniques of transformation handed down in secret oral tradition for centuries, for he is the nineteenth in succession of sheikhs from Pir Nureddin Jerrahi, who died in 1721. But what Sheikh Muzaffer strongly indicated, through his response to their questions and through his very being, was that “submission to Allah” – or grounding all our thoughts and acts in saying “yes” to the Divine Reality-is the essence of- spirituality. This essence is simple religious faith, found in the humble daily practice of a particular sacred tradition-in this case, the five-times daily prayer cherished both by the. Suf adept and the ordinary devout Moslem,` Only on the unshakeable basis of such faith and practice can advanced mystical. Techniques of transformation-such as the whirling and the chanting of the dervishes, be authentically established. And the force of such mystical practice do no more than raise to unimaginable degrees of richness and intensity our appreciation of this simple faith. Religious faith is the humblest beginning and th highest goal. As Sheikh Muzaffer expresses it: Allah is beginning, middle, and end of the, spiritual path.
The divine gift of faith cannot be assim ilated fully by human beings without thi supporting environment of a religious tra dition, including potent words, symbols rituals, saints-all integrated into a livinj whole. When we live entirely within thi vast embrace of a sacred tradition, physi cal – healing, psychological integration and spiritual illumination are subtly facil. itated, because body, mind, and spirit ar( not relegated to different “fields” but ar( experienced as aspects of a single whole. ness of being. To have separated “psychology” from “religion” may prove onE of the most dangerous dichotomies which our civilization has invented, thereby creating an illusion of having progressed beyond the spiritual wisdom of earlier ages. And the impulse among some modern people to do away entirely with religious traditions is no less absurd than deciding to dispense with language-, shelter, or nourishment.
Sheikh Muzaffer is a living representative of the “earlier ages” in which religion was totally integrated into all aspects of life. In every culture on the ‘planet there still exist religious communities in which ancient sacred traditions live in all fullness and fruitfulness. We must turn now with gratitude to these communities in order to study, practice and receive transmissions of the spiritual resources which they have painstakingly preserved for us. How we assimilate the religious faith and practice which will spring up in us spontaneously’ through close association with these intense and authentic communities is an open question. Will we disappear into these communities as orthodox practitioners or will we permeate our modern secular lives with the fragrance of a sacred tradition without recreating its entire ritual framework? Both ways of assimilation will be helpful to planetary culture. And the particular way we choose can only be the result of a vocation, a Divine Calling, not just a cultural or personal strategy. Widespread reawakening to the values of sacred traditions will be an essential factor in the struggle to transform this technological age and to protect and nurture life on our planet. Rather than mere survivals from the past, sacred traditions are living messages full of holy, transforming power to shape our future.
But obstacles remain to be overcome before we can freely open the treasures of our collective, planetary, religious heritage. Secular humanists, looking only it the conventional surfaces of religion, consider sacred traditions as primitive or even oppressive. Traditional religionists bring this same kind of prejudice to bear on religions other than their own. This impasse can only be dissolved as pro- found appreciation of the mysterious power and fruitfulness of all sacred traditions dawns in the mind and heart of humanity. This by no means requires an attitude of uncritical acceptance, because intense self-criticism is a natural function of sacred tradition itself. Again and again the Hebrew Prophets admonished the people and their religious leaders for clinging to merely human conventions rather than opening courageously into the Divine Mystery. Sacred traditions are themselves organic beings which contain their own subtle interior modes of self-correction, self-healing, self -purification
On that spring afternoon in New York City, Sheikh Muzaffer demonstrated to sophisticated psychiatrists and psychologists the rich integration of the human being offered by the faith and practice of Islam. The previous summer, I had a much more extensive opportunity to witness the profound refuge and illumination offered by Islam while visiting Sheikh Muzaffer and his dervish community in Istanbul for ‘ the holy month of Ramadan. We fasted together all day and feasted together all night, never once sleeping until after the Morning Prayers at dawn- the dervishes rising again an hour or two later for work. We prayed together the five times daily prayers and the extensive midnight prayers of Ramadan. We partook together of the powerful Zhikr of the Jerrahi Order of Sufis in which various names of Allah are chanted for an hour in unison, with increasing intensity, accompanied by graceful movements through which the body itself merges in holy sound. We listened together each the Bayazit Mosque, beside which Sheikh Musaffer’s small bookshop can be found,I beneath the shade of grapevines, by seekers of Goa from all over the world.
One twilight, seated beside the sheikh, gazing into the vast dome of the mosque, I felt transported by the delicate yet powerful energy of the Koran as pure holy sound into an emerald mosque beyond even the highest heaven. No human figures appeared there-only a large radiant Koran which was chanting itself. We cannot understand the Koran by regarding simply its surface, its literal meaning, its form as a book in the Arabic language. Sheikh Muzaffer remarked to me that there are as many levels of meaning in the Koran as there are words, even as there are letters, in the Holy Book. It only appears to be written in Arabic, he explained, but is actually written in the mysterious language of God.
That month spent in Istanbul with the dervishes kindled a fire of faith in Allah and the Prophet of Allah which I never imagined would be possible for me. I have been touched directly by initiatory experiences in several sacred traditions, but somehow always felt distant from Islam, as those of us do who only look at the surface of Islam from outside the tradition. It is almost impossible to get b0neath’the surface of a religion simply through goodwill and studious effort. Some process of race is necessary. We must be drawn into the mysterious divine attraction that is often focused through the person of a teacher but is also focused through the entire community of spiritual practitioners. Part of the beauty of sacred tradition is that the simple believer and the proficient mystic can share the same essential faith and practice,’feeling the mutual loving respect of brothers and sisters in one spiritual family, each of whom is a channel of grace in his or her own way. The love and the subtle, wordless understanding of Islam communicated to me in Istanbul by the entire community of jerrahi dervishes-is beyond expression.
I first met Sheikh Muzaffer when interviewing him on the Pacifica radio station in New York City where, for the last eight years, I have produced a weekly show called In the Spirit, talking with a wide spectrum of spiritual practitioners, from Alan Watts to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Many of these discussions have been dramatic and moving, but I was quite unprepared that Sunday morning when I turned to begin the interview, after one of the dervishes had chanted the powerful Islamic Call to Prayer, to find the Sheikh weeping with intense spiritual emotion. It was immediately clear that this was not a person on the surface of life.
Sheikh Muzaffer is also a noted Turkish ‘poet, whose pen name is Ashki, “the one who belongs to Love.” In the second radio program we did, he spoke of the mystery of Divine Love. What follows is a partial transcript of that conversation.
Lex Hixon: Effendi, you have spoken of the essence of the Koran as the essence of the Prophet Mohammed and as the essence of Allah..
Some people say this single essence is love, and we hear that the way of the dervishes is the way of Love. Can you, tell us about the way of Love and how to walk on this way?
Muzaffer Effendi: it is very difficult to put into words the highest experience of love. It is like describing honey for someone who has never tasted honey or who has never even seen honey. Love is to perceive in everything what is good and what is beautiful. To look rat everything with the desire to learn from it. To see everywhere the gifts of Allah, the generosity of Allah. To recognize what Allah has given us, to appreciate it, and to be thankful for it will be the first step for us on this way of Love. This is only the seed of Love, but in time the seed will grow, will become a tree, and will finally bear fruit. Whoever tastes that fruit will know what real Love is: a kind of joyful pain. Whoever experiences this in his heart will know the secret that everything is Truth and everything leads to the Truth. There is nothing but Truth. And through this realization the lover will be overcome~ and drown in the sea of Love. We can give thanks fully only when we see the Truth. Our expression of thanks is prayer to the Provider of Truth. That is why we repeat: “All grace comes from Allah and all praises are due Allah.” But our gratitude is beyond words.-We must showbur thanks in action.
How do-. we give thanks for beauty? By keeping our hearts pure. How do we express gratitude for whatever wealth we have? By distributing to the poor a portion of the gifts which have been given to us by Allah. How do we give thanks for Love the greatest gift which Allah has given us? By singing our love of Allah.
At the time of the morning prayer, before the sun rises, the curtain lifts between the lover of Allah and his Creator. During these early hours of the morning there are thousands of secrets which we may come to know. Should we sleep at that beautiful time when all these gifts are being offered? As the birds begin to sing, we can understand the mystery that every single sound and voice in this universe is mentioning, remembering, and worshipping the name of Allah. I have actually heard every breath, inhaled and exhaled, thanking Allah, and I have seen everyone-wherever they thought they were running-running towards Allah. Everyone, everywhere, at all times, wherever they think they are running to jobs, to homes, to someone, from someone-are all running toward Allah.
Lex: Everyone who is listening now experiences something of the sweetness and intensity and mystery of love-the play of love. How does this human love relate to Divine Love?
Muzaffer: Whatever we taste of love in whatever a manner, to whatever degree-is a part of the one Holy Love. The love between man and woman is a part. of the Heavenly Love. Sometimes the human lover can become a curtain between us and the realization of Divine Love. But one day that curtain will lift, and the real beloved, the real goal, will appear, in all its glory. What is important is that we keep in our heart this feeling of Love, in whatever form or shape. If you love, you will certainly reach the Divine Beloved one day. Don’t you see that the gifts of Allah often come to you through the hands of human beings, through His servants. So His Love is first expressed between human beings. The sheikh is the pourer of wine, the dervish is the glass, and Love is the wine itself. By the hand of the pourer of wine the glass is filled. This is the Direct Way. Love could be offered to one by other hands, but this is the Direct Way.