it seems as though the world is chugging along toward a horrific
destiny in an inevitable, unstoppable fashion, as though it
were a monstrous machine. That vision is a frustrating one for
those of us who would like to make a difference, but feel as
though we were up against an inexorable force. But the world
is a machine only to the extent that the human beings driving
it toward that horrific destiny are themselves unconscious machines,
driven by unchangeable patterns such as "an eye for an
eye". So a good starting point in considering how to create
a new world order is to ask ourselves. . .
If not altogether mechanical, to what degree are we "machine",
and to what degree, "free being"?
Certainly the signs of "man as machine" are everywhere.
We see "man as machine" on the individual level in
our habits, our addictions, our oedipal (and other archetypal)
patterns; much of our therapy is devoted to purchasing freedom
from such past-regimented patterns. We see "man as machine"
on the global level in centuries-old conflicts that are endlessly
re-ignited by the automatic reactivity of "an eye for an
eye". It would take a saint to be able to forgive the enemy
who has just killed his family
foregoing the impulse to vengeance, for the sake of a greater
Indeed, many traditions suggest that
as reflected by saints, sages, and other realizers
is what moves us along the spectrum from the "machine"
end toward the "free being" end. It is that movement
alone that will enable us to transcend the logic of retaliation.
But how does one mature spiritually? To what degree can self-improvement
result in spiritual
maturity? Or is applying the metaphor of self-improvement to
spiritual growth like trying to lift oneself up by the bootstraps?
Is help necessary? What kind of help is required? The old maxim,
"There but for the Grace of God go I", provides a
clue: perhaps apart from circumstance, the only difference between
myself and my less fortunate brother who is a murderer is Grace:
help from the Greater Reality.
"A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted
on by an outside
force". We often learn Newton's first
law of motion in the context of billiard balls on pool tables.
But the same law is readily observed in "man as machine".
I tend to react to men in the same, limited manner in which
I tended to react to my own father. I will continue to do so
until something awakens me to what I am doing, enables me to
see alternatives, and assists me in establishing those alternatives
as part of a new, less restrictive pattern.
But human beings are rather more complex than billiard balls;
much is required to overcome
the force of habit or the trend of history. Consider dieting
as one example of attempting to overcome an addiction (or any
other deep pattern) via self-improvement. The mind idealistically
embraces the idea of losing weight, usually rallying itself
around some new technique for doing that; but the body remains
a distinct voice and force all the while. The mind may rule
for a period; but, come that moment in front of the chocolate
shop, when that delicious, sweet smell comes wafting out, and
sensuously penetrates the nasal passages
instantly, the stomach starts growling, and the body politic
initiates a coup d'etat, seizing the throne and commencing
a food binge that may last days, weeks, or months. When the
mind "comes to", it generally is perplexed about the
failure of its program. It vastly underestimated (and never
was actually in a position to overcome) the force and depth
of the pattern it was attempting to address.
A more apt metaphor for "man as machine" than the
passive billiard ball is "man as homeostatic
system": a pattern of activity which,
even when acted on by an outside force, will exert a counter-force,
in order to perpetuate the present pattern. Thermostats are
built to keep the house at a certain temperature homeostatically;
a fall below that temperature turns the heater on, while a restoration
to the status quo temperature turns the heater off. Just
so, upon persisting at a certain weight for a sufficient length
of time, the human body establishes that weight as a "set
point" which it vigorously works to restore should body
weight go lower (or higher).
On the basis of similar observations, thinkers as diverse as
Montaigne, Pavlov, Gurdjieff, and Hubert Benoit, concluded that
what is possible through self-improvement, or even improvement
with the help of other human beings more or less like ourselves,
is severely limited.
the help we need for radical change or spiritual maturity, on
the one hand must overwhelm our homeostatic system in the manner
of a great "Outside Force"; and yet, on the other
hand, it must also pull the rug out from beneath deep patterns
in the manner of Something at an even greater depth (in accord
with the principles of depth psychology). The "Grace of
God" is a good name for Help which both overwhelms from
An interesting aspect of many contemporary addiction treatment
programs (particularly twelve-step programs) are the steps in
which the addict acknowledges the powerlessness of "man
as machine" to relieve himself of his addiction, and accepts
the need for Grace, or the intervention of a Higher Power, in
his life. Just so, all the spiritual traditions of humankind
are oriented around the need for Grace, and the establishment
of a genuine connection with It, in order to grow not only humanly,
but spiritually. But once one intuits the need for Grace: Where
to find It? How to link up with It? How to benefit from It?
In Western religious traditions, Grace often is viewed as a
theological problem: we can readily identify those who got "It"
in a big way
from Jesus, to Teresa of Avila, to Moses and Mohammed. We even
have stories providing some details of how "It" came
to them. But, so far as we know, only a rare few among us are
genuine saints, sages, or Spiritual Masters. Up between the
lines of these stories sneaks our suspicion that, not only are
we not able to help or improve
ourselves in any kind of truly radical way; but maybe even the
choice of linking up with that which could make the difference
is not in our hands either. Hence the thorny theological conundrums
about predestination: if
some are chosen by God to be recipients of Grace, are all the
rest of us simply spiritually damned, with not a thing we can
do about it (even though we spend a lifetime at spiritual practice)?
Curiously, the traditions of the East communicate an entirely
different picture: Grace is readily available! In the East,
Grace is not merely a synonym for "luck" or "good
fortune". Grace is not only for the predestined. Rather,
Grace is a tangible Spiritual
Transmission from the Greater Reality, accessible
who is interested, and willing to live the kind of life that
supports its steady reception. The Spiritual Master (or
Guru) is the means by which one contacts that Spiritual Transmission.
Unlike miraculous visitations, which, by their nature, can only
come and go in the wink of a mind's eye, the human
Spiritual Master serves as a stable,
persistent bridge between the material world and
the Greater Reality, for the course of the Master's lifetime
(and sometimes beyond
we'll get to that a little later).
In studying these Eastern traditions, one senses that the traditional
Western religious view may be hampered by its lack of a contemporary
Spiritual Master who provides a present-time demonstration
of Spiritual Transmission. In sharp contrast, the Indian tradition
holds that India has never experienced a time without either
a Spiritual Master or a saint capable of Spiritual Transmission.
The Indian culture has always been one in which the view of
the Spiritual Master as the source of Grace is common knowledge,
grounded in somewhat less common experience. Those "in
the know" are able to point newcomers to the Spiritual
Transmitters alive in their time.
that less common experience look like? It certainly has the
characteristic, necessary for transformation, of being an overwhelming
"outside force". When Jesus of Nazareth approached
Peter and Andrew and said simply, "Come, follow me",
they dropped everything
work, family, possessions
to do just that. Granted, the story may have been recast in
a simplified, mythic form, and its real, historical details
may have included painful goodbyes, financial re-arrangements,
and what not. But the essence
of the response to Jesus' Spiritual Transmission is captured
well by: "they straightaway left their nets and followed
him." They were overwhelmed
by his Transmission. Everything their lives had been about before
seemed profoundly superficial in this revelation of a Greater
Reality, communicated by the Grace of the Spiritual Master.
from "The Calling of the Disciples"
Domenico Ghirlandaio (c. 1480)
tradition communicates a similar message through the story of
Krishna and the gopi cowherd women. Upon hearing Krishna's flute,
the gopis simply left their cattle to follow him. Like the disciples
of Jesus, they dropped everything to follow their Spiritual
Master because of something transmitted by his presence which
completely overwhelmed them, and changed their sense of reality.
Krishna's Spiritual Transmission (symbolized by his flute) made
these women ecstatic.
Flutes Under a Tree"
Kishangarh, opaque watercolor and gold on paper (c.
Binney 3rd Collection, 1990:747
per se is less emphasized in the stories of Jesus, the
Christian mystical tradition in toto is filled with it.
Bernini's statue of St.
Teresa of Avila in Divine Communion is a beautiful rendering
of her experience of ecstasy. Ecstasy as a result of Grace likewise
is a common theme in the reports from the Sufi and Hassidic
"The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila"
Giovanni Bernini (1652)
Transmission appears in the stories surrounding Gautama the
Buddha. On one occasion, the Buddha said no word, but simply
held up a flower. Most of his disciples were puzzled. But Kasyapa
smiled in response, "enlightened" on the spot; the
Buddha acknowledged that Kasyapa had indeed received his Transmission.
The point of the story is not the visible flower, but rather,
the invisible Transmission passing from Gautama to Kasyapa,
translating him (in that moment, or perhaps henceforth) into
the "enlightened state". That Transmission is said
to have initiated the Zen Buddhist tradition. The Zen teaching
has been passed on from Master to disciple by direct Transmission
ever since. The overt acts by which the Zen Master interacts
with the disciple
even unconventional ones such as hitting the disciple over the
head with a stick, throwing a rock at the disciple, and the
can be more deeply understood in the manner of Gautama's flower.
They are simply pointers or aids to the Spiritual Transmission
that is occurring.
Krishna, and Gautama are no longer present "in the flesh".
Nonetheless, tangible Spiritual Transmission continues as a
living reality. When I found my Spiritual Master, Adi
Da Samraj, I was a university professor, living one
of the conventional lives of my time, even as the fishermen,
Peter and Andrew, or the gopi women cowherds, had been doing
in their time. But when I sat before my Master for the first
time, his Transmission literally opened up my heart
waves of love for him and for all beings came pouring from me
spontaneously, in response to the enormous love I tangibly felt
flowing from him to me.
taking up a way of life devoted to "tuning in" on
that Transmission, my entire sense of reality gradually has
been transformed. On such a Grace-full basis (rather than on
the basis of self-conscious effort with my old sense of "material-only"
reality still intact), over time, the force of all the varieties
of machine-like patterning (emotional, mental, physical, psychic)
that have placed limits on my happiness has gradually diminished,
through their non-use.
Like the disciples of Jesus, or Krishna's gopi devotees, the
secret of transformation in my case has been overwhelming
distraction by the Grace of the Spiritual Master.
As my Spiritual Master once humorously put it, while his devotee
is "away", distracted by the ecstasy of his Transmission,
the Master enters the devotee spiritually, and cleans up the
place "like a little old lady cleaning out a bird cage."
This cleansing, or release of old patterns, is not something
the devotee does (or even can do) by effort; rather, the devotee allows the Master
(who, unlike the devotee, is in a position to know what he or
she is doing) to do the work.
"The Descent of the Holy Spirit"
Albrecht Durer (woodcut, c. 1510)
like manner, the stories of Jesus's disciples communicate a
graceful transformation or "second birth" of weak,
even cowardly men (the women devotees seemed less so), into
extraordinary men "filled with the Spirit", able to
endure incredible hardships (and even horrific deaths) through
their reception of their Master's Spiritual Transmission (symbolized
by the "Holy Spirit").
I have been writing from the viewpoint of Grace as a means for
Spiritual growth and, ultimately, for Spiritual Liberation.
But Grace is often sought for purely material help. Some of
this is due simply to the influence of our currently materialistic
culture, and a Western religious tradition that has placed more
emphasis on the visible here and now, than on the "hereafter"
(or, more accurately: the invisible "here and now").
But equally important is Maslow's hierarchy of needs: how can
we invest any serious energy or attention on Spiritual Realization,
when we are hungry, poor, sick, or at war? The "lower"
needs must be handled, if not before the higher needs, then
at the same time, in order for the spiritual practitioner to
be freed from having to invest too much time, energy, and attention
in caring for them.
Interestingly, the Grace of the Spiritual Master has always
been understood to not only serve the Spiritual liberation of
individuals, but also to have a beneficial effect on the world
in ordinary terms. The Christian tradition of caring for the
sick, clothing the poor, and feeding the hungry originated in
the miraculous displays of Grace by Jesus: healings, feeding
the multitudes, etc. That these too were the result of Spiritual
Transmission is clear. For instance, in one incident, when a
woman touches Jesus's robe and is healed, it is reported that
"Jesus felt the power go out from him", indicating
that a spontaneous Spiritual Transmission had caused her cure.
twentieth-century Indian Master, Ramana Maharshi, often was
asked, "Why don't you help the world?", apparently
in response to the fact that he simply stayed in or near his
room all the time. Maharshi's answer was, "How do you know
I do not? A self-realized being cannot help benefitting the
world. His very existence is the highest good." He thus
reflected the questioner's limited understanding of Spiritual
Transmission; the one who asked the question presumed that benefitting
the world requires physical proximity and visible action.
traditions suggest that the material world is arising in a Greater-Than-Material
Reality. Realize that Greater Reality (even only partially),
and one will be able to help the material world from the greater
vantage point of its Source (or at least closer to It). Asking
a Spiritual Master why he or she is not out feeding the hungry
is a little like asking the staff of a cancer research institute
why they are not out treating the folks in their neighborhood
for colds. Other doctors are already doing just that! The opportunity
represented by the Spiritual Master and his or her Spiritual
Transmission is rare, and, like those cancer researchers, Spiritual Masters should be completely supported in doing what only they can do.
beneficial effect of Spiritual Transmission on the world can
take many forms. The devotees of the Spiritual Master, Narayan
Maharaj, believed his Spiritual Transmission was instrumental
in the final resolution of World War II. The Master would read
a detailed report every day on the war's progress. As the war
continued, leaving large numbers of soldiers wounded and dying,
mysterious wounds would appear on the Master's body, with no
visible cause. As a result, he could neither walk nor eat. Finally,
on September 3, 1945, Maharaj was told that the British had
landed in Japan. He responded, "The war is over. My work
is finished." He died later that same day.
positive benefits on the material level are of limited spiritual
value, because they pass, and because we die. While it is not discussed much, in fact every one of the
people that Jesus healed died later (even Lazarus). So obviously
the eradication of death could not have been the point of these
miracles. Thus Spiritual Masters have always sought to re-educate
their disciples into valuing more greatly that which is eternal
(or at least greater-than-material). For this reason, Masters
warn disciples away from the fascinations of miraculous powers
in and of themselves, because they only create temporary effects,
and thus can represent a diversion from the true but narrow
course leading to spiritual growth. To the extent that Spiritual
Transmission leads to a more peaceful world and better life
conditions, and thus, an
environment more greatly conducive to Spiritual life,
its use is truly spiritually valuable. But Grace invoked solely
for the sake of material gain has always been criticized by
the human sources of that Grace.
If the Spiritual Master is the means by which Grace enters tangibly
and stably into the world, what happens to that source of Grace
when the Spiritual Master dies? The answer depends completely
upon the Realization of the Spiritual Master's disciples. A
tradition remains Spiritually empowered because the Spiritual
Realizer of one generation transmits his or her Realization
to the disciple (or to an entire group of disciples), to the
point where the disciple (or group of disciples) attains the
same Realization, and is capable of serving as a vessel of Spiritual
Transmission (from the original Spiritual Master, now no longer
humanly incarnate) for the next generation. If the Realization
"lessens" over the generations, the tradition can
eventually reach a point where it continues to be socially viable
but has become spiritually bankrupt; or it may splinter into
genuine but small spiritual flames here and there.
The Christian mystical tradition is a representative example
in sheer numbers of acknowledged saints, the tradition reached
its zenith between 1200 and 1700 AD; it has been diminishing
ever since. The dwindling numbers coincide with a general sense
that the Christian mystical tradition and many other such traditions
are dwindling, particularly with the global spread of a strongly
materialistic world view. Even the deeply spiritual culture
of India has been strongly affected by its newfound lust for
technology and material power, well-purposed toward eradicating
the poverty and political powerlessness it has suffered for
ages, but often at the cost of its spiritual heritage. India's
surviving esoteric traditions are now mostly scattered pockets
In some sense, then, the greatest gift for the world that a
Spiritual Master (past, present, or future) could leave
now or in the future
is the establishment of a community of disciples capable of
preserving and even magnifying the Spiritual Master's Transmission
down through the ages. In this context, we can read the symbol
of the Boddhisattva
in terms larger than the individual. A true Boddhisattva for
this new millenium would be just such a living Spiritual community,
but materially established on a global scale sufficient for
countering the global sweep of materialism. Such a community
would communicate the existence and availability of Grace to
the world at large; and it would persist in keeping Grace available
in the world, until it fulfills the duty of all Boddhisattvas
that is, until the last "separate being" is Awakened
out of the dream.
more on connecting with a contemporary Spiritual Master's Transmission,