Leading magazine of the American left, 1962-1975)
July 1973, page 26-35, 47-57.
A Reader's Guide to the New Mysticism
A Reader's Guide to the New Mysticism
This categorization of cults, religions and spiritual schools of the New Mysticism is in some ways a contradiction of the mystical process itself. Lao Tzu (via a translator, Wytter Bynner) warned:
"Leave off fine learning! End the nuisance
Of saying yes to this and perhaps to that,
Distinctions with how little difference!
Categorical this, categorical that,
What slightest use are they!"
There being no easy way out of that trap of explaining direct mystical experience in intellectual symbols, perhaps a way around is to make the categorization brief. Herewith, then, a short selection of chart-busting cults, growth stocks and consciousness-raising techniques that fall somewhere on the continuum from getting-in-touch-with-body to awakening the soul.
Ananda Marga: Although they have only about 3,000 active disciples in the U.S., the Ananda Marga society has received press coverage recently because their founder and spiritual leader, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, is on trial in India. Anandamurti, also called Baba, is accused of murdering seven former disciples, a charge which his followers say was trumped up by the Indian government. In April, an Ananda Marga monk immolated himself to protest his leader's imprisonment, and two CBS newsmen filming the event were arrested by Indian police. Ananda Marga's practice in America mixes meditation and "good works"-recycling, disaster relief, day care, visiting the old, the sick, the imprisoned. In India they are considered a militant antigovernment group, and they recently moved their world headquarters from India to Wichita, Kansas.
Arica: A body of techniques for cosmic consciousness-raising and an ideology to relate to the world in an awakened way. Arica was named after the city in Chile where its developer, Oscar lchazo, lived and worked before emigrating to that global energy center, New York. Arica draws heavily on Gurdjieff's categories of consciousness and ego, as well as concepts and methods in Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism, Yoga, Zen and various esoteric psychologies. Ichazo does not purport to be divine, nor is Arica a religion. Students take courses of various lengths at Arica Institutes around the country in order to awake from their sleepy consciousnesses. It is sophisticated, intellectualized, expensive and chic.
Divine Light Mission: The religious organization of the Satguru (Perfect Master) Maharaj Ji, an Indian adolescent who says He is God but is adulated more like a Brahmin Donny Osmond. The religion comes on to Western hippies as a psychedelic Hinduism or electric Yoga. But it is well-heeled, well-organized and surprisingly slick.
EST: Officially, the name is meant to connote the Latin for "it is," as well as to form an acronym for a number of phrases, such as Electronic Social Transformation, Eco-Strategy-Tactics, Environment Systems Theory, Equilibrium of Sensory Threshholds, Earth Survival Techniques, Exploration of Simulsense Totality, Ego Self Transcendence, and so on. Unofficially, it sometimes stands for Erhard Seminary (or Sensitivity) Training, after its conceiver, Werner Erhard. After going through an EST course, students are supposed to acquire the intellectual and cosmic tools necessary to understand and master planetary problems. The course is a mixture of Buckminster Fuller and Moral Re-Armament-which may not be much of a mixture at all. It is popular on the West Coast, and Jerry Rubin is an enthusiast-although he claims it is merely one of many such courses he has taken recently.
The Foundation: Stephen Gaskin is one of the few home-grown American freak gurus who are not apostles of a particular Oriental religion. Americans prefer import-gurus the way they prefer Third World knicknacks in fancy boutiques to similar articles made in Hoboken. Gaskin was once called the Acid Guru; he lived in San Francisco and conducted a weekly hippie satsang called Monday Night Class; many of his lectures were collected into a book of that name. He then moved his commune to The Farm, in Tennessee, and started The Foundation, which is the corporate existence of his teachings. He has also dropped his patronym and calls himself "Stephen." His widely-read words systematize the more simple-minded aspects of flower-power, the Love Generation, and Getting It Together.
Gurdjieff: A system of cosmic and psychological enlightenment put together by the Caucasian philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff and expanded by his disciple, P. D. Ouspensky. Gurdjieff fled the Russian Revolution and founded the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, near Paris. Gurdjieff is one spring for many of the wells of teachings which attempt to mix Eastern and Western ways of dealing with self-identity, always a popular pastime in America and Europe (why isn't it so popular in the Orient?) There are Gurdjieff/ Ouspensky centers in several cities.
Jesus Freaks: Electric, eclectic Christianity for the Now Generation. There are several sub-sects, including the Children of God-a group that is causing tension in parts of Britain. Some of the sects tend to be strongly authoritarian. Basically, the religion proves that Jesus Christ was no more absurd than the Satguru Maharaj Ji.
Meher Baba: Unlike most contemporary Indian masters, Meher Baba claimed he was the Avatar (and as such is in conflict with the claims of Maharaj Ji, although the contradiction may be explicable in one or another theology). He was an Indian of Persian extraction, and attempted to "reorient" Sufism as His religion. He was silent for many years, but wrote His famous injunction: "Don't worry, Be happy." There are groups of Meher "Baba Lovers" around the country, and the British rock group The Who is into Him. (The rock opera Tommy is purported to be based on His life.)
Mind Control: There are various commercial and non-commercial operations that use machines or meditative techniques to teach clients how to regulate the electrical functions of their own brains so as to produce jects feel good. Biofeedback techniques may also allow subjects to control other functions of their body, including the autonomic nervous system. Silva Mind Control, a successful commercial version, uses no machines. Most mind control techniques do not fall into the category of cosmic cult but they share many of the methods-and expectations-of cosmic psychology.
Sufism: Originally a Persian and Islamic mystical tradition, Sufi teachings are now studied and practiced throughout the world. Sufism is nothing if not trendy this year; it has been called the "chic of Araby." The Sufi Dervishes used whirling and dancing to produce the state of ecstasy, and Sufi enthusiasts today similarly employ dancing, music and movement. The international Sufi heavy is ldries Shah, who lives and writes in England. Sufis like word games and practical jokes-so look out!
Tibetan Buddhism: A Himalayan form of Zen, currently an underground trend in some student and intellectual circles in America. The popularizer in America is Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who is said to be the former head abbot of a Tibetan monastery before he left when his country was liberated by the Chinese in 1959. He came here by way of England, and established two centers, the Tail of the Tiger in Vermont and Karma Dzong in Colorado. One important (and appealing) feature of Tibetan Buddhism is its wry cynicism: masters tell their students to "doubt," rather than "have faith."
There are probably hundreds of Indians and others in America
who have become gurus in the Yogic tradition. Yoga is an
Indian form of Buddhist mysticism, which involves physical
exercise, breathing rituals and meditative processes to
lightenment. There are scores of Yogic schools, centers and
ashrams in the U.S., some of them well-established like the
Self-Realization Fellowship, in California, founded by
Paramahansa Yogananda ("The Autobiography of a Yogi"). There
are also various yogis, gurus, babas and swamis, either in
America or India, who maintain important followings
Yogi Bhajan, practitioner of Kundalini Yoga in his 3H0-Healthy Happy Holy Organization; Swami Satchidananda, who performed at Woodstock, and runs the Integral Yoga Institute; Swami Vishnudevananda of the International Sivananda Yoga and Vedanta Society; the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga, once the Fifth Beatle, subject of John Lennon's vicious lyrics in "Sexy Sadie," who conducts Transcendental Meditation; and Baba Ram Dass, a.k.a. Richard Alpert, the hottest American mystic these days, follower of an Indian guru.
Zen: Japanese Buddhist mysticism, comprising sects and subsects. Teachings and meditative systems are designed to lead a student to enlightenment, or satori. Zen is an austere, ascetic and pure system that most Americans find difficult to penetrate, although those who do find it enormously meaningful. An entire Zen culture flourishes in Japan, and a small one is growing in the U.S. There are many Zen centers, including a Zen community in Maine directed by an American roshi who spent many years in Japan. There exists a rich Zen literature of stories, sayings, poems and parables. One of the great masters was Hakuin (18th century), who devised the koan, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" He also wrote the frequently used chant:
"Sentient beings are intrinsically Buddha ….
This very place is the Lotus land, this very body the Buddha."