Monday, February 19, 2007

In the Circle of the Spirit

Navajo and Tibetan Wisdom Paths to Humane Being

Entering the Circle

They were the heady 1980’s and 90’s, a time of prosperity and seemingly infinite possibilities. In those years I rarely found myself stateside. I was residing mainly in Himalayan India, Nepal and Tibet along with sojourns among Tibeto-Burman hilltribes in southeast Asia. When back in America, I would more likely than not find myself on Indian lands in Arizona and New Mexico.

During the majority of those decades, I was living in realities which were radically divergent from that of my natal culture. Navajo Indians and Tibetans shared basic ways of thinking, expressing and living which were much closer to one another than to those of mainstream Americans.

Their common ground derived from their enshrining essential lessons in living from out of their long pasts. Historical narratives told of bygone times during which many of their versions of today’s basic challenges had been engaged and surmounted. These provided their ancestors guidance in negotiating the pitfalls of the human condition. Whereas the modern nation state of America has forgotten the lessons of its past, Tibetans and Navajos remember theirs and heed them still.

Living for many years on the Navajo Indian Reservation has immersed me daily in the Navajo vision of the Good. It describes a personal journey into a state of cosmic equipoise, which the Navajo call Beauty.

Tibetans likewise aspire to merge with the substance and vastness of the cosmos, without and within. Their way to the Good is through developing an illumined mind and expansive heart on successive lifetime journeys into Buddhahood.

Since both deeply honor meaningful visions of themselves in the world and ways of fully living in it, I decided about twenty years ago to write a book describing their common ground.

In the course of writing Navajo and Tibetan Sacred Wisdom: The Circle of the Spirit, I pondered four wisdom ways that are central to Tibetans and Navajos, and are shared by all harmonized peoples of the world in various guises. Likewise, in their absence, they speak volumes about our Western society’s currently unwholesome condition of dis-harmony, dis-ease.

Navajo ideals for living are founded on the Beauty Way, which recognizes one’s deepest relationship with all beings and with the world. It honors the path and goal of “attaining a ripe old age founded on the harmony of universal beauty.“ The Navajos invoke this quest by the often heard spiritual phrase, Sa’ah Naghai Bik’eh Hozho. This accounts for the beautific character so obvious in the faces of traditional Navajo elders.

Just now, as I write these words, the beautiful face of an elderly Tibetan appears to my mind’s eye. Tibetans likewise lead their lives on the rock solid road of their Buddhist tradition, and it is reflected in their beautiful personal presence.

Tibetans enter into reciprocity with their phenomenal universe using the daily greeting: Tashi Deley. It references “a long and consummated life in auspicious relationship with the universe.” Holding such an aspiration, Tibetans journey beyond the sufferings of this life and future rebirths.

Adding to this aboriginal ideal, the Tibetan Buddhist path leads into the abiding realms of cosmic emptiness beyond materiality and into illumined heart. These goals are expressed in another everyday expression, Om Mani Padme Hum. It references the arising jewel-like compassionate mind of enlightenment (mani) in the lotus-like matrix of the cosmos (padme).

These descriptions naturally lead to the question regarding what happens when a cultural ideology and social system deny such an integrative worldview and ethos in living. What can be said, therefore, about our own modern cultural vision of self, community and cosmos?

As it now stands, our sense of place and purpose has lost its innate wholeness to a fractured conglomeration of legalistic pronouncements and god-centered commandments. Although the arcane mystery schools of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions of monotheism hold basic teachings and practices in parallel with the Navajos and Tibetans, they are hardly holographically present nor readily reduced to practice in daily living, as they are among the Tibetans and Navajos.

Perhaps through the example of the Navajos and Tibetans, we yet can find inspiration to go forward with the restoration of the good and wholesome in our lives.

Teachings of the Circle of the Spirit

Many observers have remarked upon the similarities between Navajo and Tibetan ideals, arts and ways of living. While a historical connection between the two is not likely proveable, they do share in common certain universals in spiritual philosophy and practice which suggest a relationship at the level of the collective unconscious.

These similarities are particularly evident in the mandala-like sand paintings common to both cultures and their ideas about matter and spirit. Extensive parallels exist among many aspects of both cultures, including their creation teachings, cosmology, sacred geography, psychology, visionary arts, and healing and initiation procedures. And they provide powerful inspiration for us to reconsider our own cultural paradigm and to recover a healthful sense of sacred wholeness in our lives.

What are the tenets and practices that find common ground in the distinctive wisdom traditions of the Tibetans and Navajos?

To answer this, I set out in my book four universals shared by these two amazing traditions. The first three are principles or common visions of self and reality, while the fourth is the path for integrating the three understandings into one’s self and experience of daily living.

I call the first principle in the Navajo and Tibetan Circle of the Spirit: Awakening and Connecting to the Nature of Things.

It asks several questions of the wisdom seeker: how did the world come about and what is the fundamental nature of this world? Also, how did humanity come about and how are we a part of it all?

The Western worldview holds answers to these questions but they mainly lie on the surface of things, in the material realm of inquiry.

In terms of world origination, Tibetans and Navajos recognize megacycles of creation and disintegration. As in the cycle of the seasons, so too in the cycle of worlds, which go through their own natural phases. This understanding contrasts markedly with the monotheistic, which posits the fabricating of a single world by an all powerful but abstracted creator god. And this latter world is alive only in its animal life, with human beings standing in dominion above all other living things.

In Navajo and Tibetan intellectual cultures, the outer, material realm is alive and vital on many levels. All beings (no distinction is made between animate and inanimate) are interconnected in responsible relationship through sharing the same innate characteristics and potential. This makes for a more encompassing and richer realm of thought and experience than our own.

Both traditions consider the inner reality of things as consisting of life force wind and the awareness of mind. Interestingly, in the farther-reaching frontier understandings of quantum physics – David Bohm’s work in particular – similar understandings of the interpenetration of matter, energy and meaning are being explored. And it is probably in this sphere of the new sciences that common ground will be found among the Western, the Eastern and the Indigenous.

I’ve entitled the Circle of the Spirit’s second principle: Balancing and Unifying Earth with Sky. Its fundamental questions include: how can we maintain personal balance amid the polar tendencies of life and thought? And, how can one find wholesome integration between the earth-grounded foundation of living and the sky-vast potential of mind and spirit?

Both cultures envision the idealized human being as if standing upon a mountaintop. The person is the interface between the stable foundation of the nurturing earth and the limitless inspiration and potential of the sky. Navajos and Tibetans recognize the need to balance at the fulcrum of life’s seesaw, which they call the Beauty Way and the Middle Way, respectively. In both wisdom systems, the path consists of an ongoing rebalancing act for getting oneself through life in a successful and harmonious manner.

By contrast, in the modern Western world we try unsuccessfully to build up rigid roadways for maintaining an unchanging state of mind and society. This creates a vision of the path through life being the “one right way,” as opposed to other “wrong ways” of thinking and living.

Where a Tibetan or Navajo would never consciously go to such extremes – such a posture is deeply troubling to them - the Westerner tends to envision going to extremes as the obvious solution to “righting a wrong.” The result is a life in constant upheaval, much like the rebounding ripples from a stone cast into a pond, creating interference patterns on the water’s surface. While there are always ripples in the flow of life, the former approach seeks to quiet them while the latter, unreflectingly, magnifies them.

Again, quantum understandings can help explain the veracity of this aspect of perennial wisdom. Quantum scientists have proven that the existence of extremes is illusory. They are but hypothetical aspects of the totality, which is always in a state of dynamic flux somewhere, indeterminately, in between.

Niels Bohr, considered to be the father of quantum mechanics, had placed on his family seal the Taoist yinyang symbol of the great way of balance, together with the saying: “contrary is complementary.” The phrase refers to the “complementarity” of subatomic states in quantum reality, where matter is composed simultaneously of particles and energy waves. While they are seemingly different (contrary to one another) they are, in fact, expressions of the same underlying reality. They are complementary expressions of the totality.

The third principle of the Circle of the Spirit is entitled: Centering in the Mandala of Self and Cosmos. The Hindu-Buddhist term, mandala, describes an idealized or enlightened state of being and knowing, generally encoded as a fourfold circle.

This principle engages such questions as: how can one find a stillpoint in the constantly moving reality of daily existence? And, what do the four quarters of the day, the seasons, and phases of one’s lifetime have to teach by analogy regarding harmonizing one’s inner and outer reality?

Navajos and Tibetans signify the totality of existence through mandalas, created in sand, pigment painting, sculpture, and even dance. These encode the balanced, idealized qualities of personal actions, creative expression and of mind, as models for personal reintegration. They are powerful psychophysical maps of our inner and outer realities from the point of view of the consummated person standing atop one’s sacred mountain at the mandala map’s center.

Taken together, the first three principles serve to describe an integrated and stabilized world vision of self in cosmos.

What are our modern equivalents to such psychophysical maps? Except for the symbol of the earth photographed from space by the Galileo satellite on its way to Jupiter, or perhaps Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing of an encircled human, we have none. But once upon a time we did have many such visual guides to self in cosmos.

During the Renaissance, Hermetic alchemical mandalas were widely created. They depicted the relationship between the person and cosmos, together with the qualities and energies of the illumined adept of spiritual alchemy. Despite its deep meaning, the spiritual side of Hermetic alchemy together with its symbolic mandala imagery were rudely discarded. Only the physical, outer work of alchemy survived to become the basis of scientific chemistry and the experimental method.

The fourth quadrant of the Circle of the Spirit, entitled: Becoming: Sacred Rites of Transformation, examines how to put the first three principles into practice in one’s daily existence.

Tibetan and Navajo wisdomholders understand implicitly that knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Knowledge accumulates; wisdom guides. They know that we must become initiated onto a path of wisdom, so that the person may be remade into wholeness, holiness. Life becomes a path to the goal of Beauty and Buddhahood based upon the three understandings described above.

The transformative procedures for becoming wise, whole, healthful and holy, are held closely by their practitioners as priviledged information, to be shared as appropriate to the person and purpose in each society. They are often couched in elaborate and colorful ceremonial events which allude to a deeper psychospiritual reality.

But Buddhahood and Beauty are meant to be embodied in daily living. So, once initiated upon the Beauty Way or Middle Way paths, life becomes itself the practice in perfection.

To embody these cherished goals is a tough task in modern life, where the grail of living lies mainly in personal success and material acquisition, and less so in spiritual development. Nowadays, even the spiritual dimension is out of balance within itself and practiced separately from daily life – such as at specified times on the weekend, as is the case in Western monotheistic creeds.

The first three wisdom principles must be present and active before the fragments of spirit and matter can be reunited. When science and the church took the body and soul of Western civilization as each their own, the proverbial fall from the Garden of Eden was recreated in a new era. Refinding the harmonious unity of matter and spirit is the real work of our age.

It would have been most fortunate for the modern millions to have been born into ready-made systems of equipoise - as have the Tibetans and Navajos. But they too are subject to the effects of our crazy, fragmented world vision. We are all in this together, but we in the West are in it far deeper.

Still, the prognosis is not fatal. We may yet find our way back to the garden of humane being should we choose to open the door to our current prison and walk out into the bright light of the Circle of the Spirit.

(Author autographed copies of Navajo and Tibetan Sacred Wisdom are available. For information on ordering:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Once and Future Vision

The Challenge and the Promise

Several years ago, while living on the Navajo Indian Reservation, I was consulting with a respected medicineman who held a "day job" teaching traditional culture at a nearby community school. Once a year he would challenge his students with a question, crucial to the survival of the Navajo people in these modern times. He asked, "how can you know where you are going in the rocket age, if you don't know from where you have come?"

The medicineman's question has helped me to focus on the critical task now confronting us all in the twenty-first century world. It revealed the necessity of heeding time-honored ways of thinking and living that contribute to the development of awakened individuals, compassionate societies and a wholesome, sustainable world. To attain these goals, we too need to reawaken to the timeless reality pictures storying our own cultural past.

When I ponder the question posed by the medicineman, I naturally reflect on how traditionally-minded Navajos face life's daily challenges. Navajo foundational teachings and practices are based on seeking a harmonious and healthy existence in a world of great sentience and power. These provide them the motivation, insight and means for consciously progressing through life in the natively-Navajo manner, that of "walking in beauty" – of living in balance. And no mean feat is this, considering the awesome counter-influences issuing from the dominant and dysfunctional nation-state that surrounds them.

In contrast to the Navajo, who celebrate and preserve their culture's wisdom traditions, our own future-oriented and single-minded vision of individual, society and world has contributed to the descent of an unfortunate "veil of obscuration" between ourselves and the foundational wisdom traditions that had guided our ancestors. This self-created amnesia to our formative past has led to a weakened and constantly shifting foundation upon which we attempt to build our lives, raise our children, create our works and maintain positive cultural ideals.

Despite prodigious material achievements by the West’s modern way of life, it suffers serious holes in its collective soul. Our role in the social, ecological and cosmological scheme of things and our insights into the purpose and conduct of life have all suffered from the lack of a truly life-affirming vision.

Throughout history, great communal visions were built upon time-honored wisdoms-in-living and honed through hard-learned lessons from the past - the very roots from which we are today estranged. The philosopher George Santayana observed of this human condition that “those who do not learn the lessons of the past are condemned to repeat it.” Put another way, those who do not heed the lessons of the past are destined to become impoverished to the extent of their absence in their lives.

In the years since the publication of my latest book, Navajo and Tibetan Sacred Wisdom, I have become intrigued with the spiritual and cultural character of humanity's foundational "wisdom visions." And, in particular, with those which had informed the ideas, expressions and actions of the cultural stream of the West. They continue to provide the framework for living that we modern Westerners carry with us, individually and collectively, but of which we are today hardly aware.

With the awareness of earlier wisdom visions all but severed in our culture, I began to seek inspiration from traditionally and spiritually-grounded peoples, human beings surviving in small pockets worldwide who still strive to live by such premises and ways.

It is useful to look outside of one's habitual "amniotic sac of reality,” to see the world through fresh eyes. To this end, I have lived and studied over the years with Tibetans, Navajos and other similarly-cultured peoples. The result of this deep immersion in alternative visions of reality has unveiled a beholding of wholeness in self and world, which I call the Once and Future Vision. It is a beholding of ourselves and cosmos existing in dynamic equilibrium – in living harmony, and is composed of two facets.

The first facet consists of a compendium of four foundational wisdom visions, a “circle of visions,” which has so far cumulatively informed us about ourselves and our world. The second facet contemplates a state of global and personal wholeness, which is now fitfully emerging in our culture, communities and personal lives - even as the world about us devolves into apparent chaos.

Indeed, in order to know where we are going in the rocket age, we too need to know from where we have come. In wisdoms past lies future’s hope.

The Circle of Visions

Four foundational wisdom visions have served as roadmaps on our Western spacetime journey. We now must reawaken to them and consult them for a successful pilgrimage into the future. With the right intent, perhaps it is not too late to learn the lessons of the past.

I have called the first wisdom vision, the Original Vision. It encompasses the world picture of the Paleolithic and Neolithic - the Old and New Stone Ages. This long gestation period was the sourceground out of which humanity's basic patterns of thought, expressivity and living had developed. The Paleolithic was humanity’s great era of awakening in the world while the Neolithic completed the unfolding of the innate potential of the human hand, mind and spirit.

Unifying the wisdom ways and visions of these two ages of stone was an unvoiced, shared conviction that "you are in the universe and the universe is in you.” Humanity and cosmos were of necessity in a reciprocal dance of life and consciousness, of responsibility and caring, respect and nurture. In holding this viewpoint, one seeks a wholesome, healthy and holy life by playing a willing part in the living world’s sacred web of sentience and vitality.

While this original wisdom vision is now separated from most of us by many millennia, it continues to influence our lives in subtle and forgotten ways: from our fundamental myths and patterns of thought and dreams, to our basic foods of field and herd and in the ways by which we clothe and shelter ourselves.

During the extremely long period in which humanity had lived according the Original Vision, the world was seen as Mother and the spirit of life permeated all things. In these earliest times, humans - be they hunter-gatherers, farmers or herders - possessed a deep sense of responsible membership in the Web of Life.

But, approximately six thousand years ago came a massive shift in humanity's way of being and knowing. Vibrant and creative, highly-centralized and acquisitive, the world’s first megacultures congealed upon the foundation of the wisdom visions and ways of the Stone Ages, but with a distinctly different attitude toward human beings and their world.

Sovereign city-states arose amid closely guarded fields of grain and pens of domesticated animals. Their citizenry kept mercantile records in alphabetic writing and coaxed powerful metals from the Earth's rocks. Accordingly, the world came to be seen in a very different light. It was now viewed as garden, ranch, mine and treasury, to be harvested to the fullest extent under humanity's self-rationalized right of ownership, which in turn was often backed by the force of arms. We have come to know this radical break in the human pattern of being in the world by the term "civilization."

Ironically, the most effective antidotes to these “civilizations of excess” lay in their own prodigious wisdom teachings. These transforming ideas and practices flowered in an atmosphere of affluence and creative foment, but sprouted from seeds sown during the earlier times of the Original Vision.

One such life-oriented system of cosmology and ethical-spiritual behavior developed in Ancient Egypt. I have termed it the Hermetic Vision (after Hermes, the ancient Greek incarnation of Thoth, the Egyptian god of transformative spiritual knowledge). Eventually, native forms of the Hermetic Vision developed in all of humanity's cradle civilizations, from the Nile to the Yangtze. They provided systematic ways toward personal illumination through refining one's connection to the enchanted cosmos beyond and within.

On its diffusion to the West, the Hermetic Vision served as fundamental inspiration to the European Renaissance, while contributing essential experimental methods to the later system of science.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ancient Indo-European world, civilizations of the Indus Valley in South Asia nurtured a stream of hermetic spiritual knowledge and practice that would ultimately flower throughout the eastern world as Buddhism.

In this manner, civilizations gave birth to some of the world's most illustrious spiritual teachers, such as Moses, Hermes and Buddha. Their teachings served as essential antidotes to the internal conflict and confusion of the civilizations that had spawned them.

With the Hermetic Vision's forced retreat from public view by the close of the Renaissance, European merchants and militarists of the so-called Age of Enlightenment were actively engaged in exploring and exploiting beyond the known margins of their world. An age of colonialism was now in full swing, resulting in the subjugation and wholesale extermination of indigenous peoples and the expropriation of their natal lands and resources.

How different were our ancestors’ visions and values from these indigenous peoples' fundamental pictures of existence! Their Indigenous Vision was, as it still is, centered on finding ways for maintaining a life of personal and communal harmony in a sacredly-held natural world of deep meaning and power. While almost destroyed during the period of exploration and colonization, the Indigenous Vision has come, ironically, to inspire and inform those whose cultural ancestors originally had intruded upon the Native peoples' lands and lives.

From Rousseau's flawed romantic sentiment of the "noble savage" to the Iroquois Indian Confederacy's essential contributions to the democratic basis of the U.S. Constitution, we Westerners have been beneficiaries of indigenous "Indian giving" on every inhabited continent of the Earth.

In short order, by the close of the seventeenth century in Europe, through what could qualify as a "Faustian or devil's bargain," the Church had taken control of the soul while science got the material body of Western civilization and its peoples. Through this unnatural split, reality and its creations were considered to have the character of machine-like material entities - operating according to God's laws in otherwise empty space. This denaturing and dehumanizing worldview contributed to lands and peoples being exploited without limitation.

Out of this megashift in viewing and being in the world arose the Mechanical Vision - the fourth fundamental script and communal "take" on reality, which currently underlies our contemporary lives. Having begun in revolution to the worldview and premises of the Hermetic Vision, the Mechanical Vision of Copernicus, Newton and Descartes has been in full swing now for several hundred years.

Interestingly, in these times the Mechanical Vision has actually begun to edge toward rapprochment with humanity’s earlier wisdom visions, through revelations by its own high priests - the scientists themselves. This return to the perennial has materialized through indisputable discoveries and "unsettling" implications of quantum physics and other “new sciences.”

A Once and Future Beholding

To attain the full possibilities of our personal, social and spiritual lives, we need to become reaquainted with wisdom visions from our past and experience them at a more awakened level of understanding. This will contribute to our becoming restored to a degree of wholeness enjoyed by very few individuals and peoples in today’s world.

Regaining our full inheritance as human beings is all the more pressing in the face of contemporary world events. Escalating forces of dissolution provide dire urgency for reconnecting with the wisdoms of our past and, ironically, the necessary alchemic conditions for the arising of a new wisdom vision of ourselves and world.

The way in which the next beholding of reality takes form depends certainly on present-day events, patterns of living and currents of philosophical, artistic and scientific thought and practice. But it must also be a conscious endeavor, a summation, “in a new key,” of knowledge and ways from earlier wisdom visions of self and cosmos, which in any event continue to reside within the deeper recesses of our collective culture and individual minds.

To speak effectively to the challenges of our age, such a vision must necessarily evoke a living wholeness in the world and within each person. It must inform all realms of existence - from the technical to the spiritual; the medical to the political; economics to the arts; birth to death - by way of the daily practice of what may be called Awakened Civility.

Reconnecting with perennial ways of knowing, seeing and living will radiate waves of wholeness and blessing within our lives and, given our pervasive influence in the world, the lives of other peoples and indeed the planet itself.

Through reawakening to the lessons of the wisdom-filled visions of our progenitors we may effectively heal the division between the lessons of the past and aspirations for the future, and vouchsafe our lives, society and world into a state of wholeness, longevity and peace.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Two-Hearted Nation

A New World

The determined refugees’ wooden ships made landfall in a promising new world where they strove to realize a righteous and biblically-informed way of life. The Puritans had fled their part in religious and political turmoil convulsing England’s “old world” society of the 1630’s and found their rebirth in a seemingly limitless land.

From out of the Puritans’ fold would arise America’s major Christian denominations and the “Protestant (often called, 'Puritan') work ethic,” that headstrong urge to be productive which fuels today’s self-driven American personality.

Close upon the Puritans’ heels arrived their philosophical opposites, educated idealists bearing the “enlightenment” vision of post-Renaissance Europe. They carried its coals to their version of a limitless new world. Out from their community came many of the “founding fathers” of the fledgling American nation, along with America’s unshakeable sense of purpose and promise.

These enlightenment men called themselves Deists, but they rejected the structured belief system and revelatory character of the Puritans’ fundamentalist biblical heritage. The Deists’ worldview relied instead upon on a relationship with the world’s spiritual creator through the power of reason and the invocation of natural law.

Two visions of reality; two very different systems of thinking and living; two fragments of a possible whole. These early Americans’ beholdings of reality survive today as fragmented versions of an unrealized national vision and its full enactment in American life.

Back in Europe, they had been locked in their disturbed social tango over the centuries. And they would spin together still on more distant shores. As a result, we Americans – their current cultural incarnations - continue to enact two well-intentioned but heavily-lopsided scripts in our deeply dual, new world nation. And it likely could not have been otherwise, given that America’s cultural ways and ideals were founded on the deepest divisions of the old world.

In the ensuing centuries, America’s strict moralists and idealistic empire builders sought to prevail supreme, each in their version of the right and good life. Instead of centering on seeking sincere common ground for the sake of the evolving nation, each remained deluded into thinking that only their vision of reality could ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The eminent contemporary Seneca historian, John Mohawk, noted this schism from his Native American vantage point:

The American pathology finds its roots in a myth-centered nationalism
which entertains a claim that God intended his chosen people to have whatever they want…
Here you find the roots of America's go-it-alone, treaty breaking, empire building,
xenophobic us-against-them psychology.

The non-mythological
(actually less mythological is more accurate)
more rational rule-of-law, cooperate-with-one's-allies America
is locked in a struggle with its evil twin and
seems to lack some of the energetic enthusiasm of the latter.

Americans are not alone in their wounded version of the human condition. Divisive duality has erratically steered the world's ships of state since earliest times. It was the fuel and plague of ancient civilizations from Sumer and Egypt to the Greek city-states. From there, the Greek model was bequeathed to Britain’s and America’s influential grandfather, Rome.

Anglo-America’s informing ancestral societies were basically civilizations of excess. Their fractured worldviews fueled the urge to surplus through trade and war, while they searched in vain for an ever elusive Good amid an abundance of material goods.

Fortunately, and perhaps in natural compensation for civilization’s innate feeding frenzy, an antidote to its gluttony beckoned from the orgy’s sidelines. Here, in the spiritual sphere of life, civilization’s wisdom ways and positive credos for living were taught and maintained.

Ancient civilizations of excess were the birthplaces of the world’s major spiritual teachers - from Buddha to Moses to Jesus and onward. But in spite of their positive influence, the formative script of early civilizations continued to compel their citizens to seek life’s ideals primarily through the exciting but deadly game of duality.

History reveals that the duality game never leads to enduring wholeness or happiness of self and society. Whereas all reasonable people seek such conditions in their lives, they cannot be created at whim nor in abstraction from anything else in the world. Wholeness (which comes from the Old English root word shared by heal and holy) requires being aware of one’s organic and interconnected relationship with and within the web of the world’s life.

My traditional Navajo teachers call this holistic networked reality, k'e, meaning “responsible relationship.” It effectively supports the Navajos’ life goal of attaining hozho, the “beauty” of sacred wholeness. To the Navajo, a person’s longterm survival and happiness are directly connected to holding respect for all members of this universal web, who live throughout earth and sky and into clan and family.

From wholeness in knowing naturally comes wholeness in living. The Navajo invoke the wholeness of life in this poetic manner:

In beauty before me I walk
In beauty behind me I walk
In beauty below me I walk
In beauty above me I walk
In beauty all around me I walk
In beauty from within me I walk
It is all in beauty
It is all in beauty

This precious understanding is one of many reasons that the continued survival of colonized indigenous peoples, as are the Native Americans, is so important to the human experiment. We have much to learn from our indigenous relations regarding the art of living.

Indigenous cultures of equipoise have derived potent lessons from their pasts. As human beings, they all had been to the brink of disharmony and back over the many millennia of their existence. Their ancestors had experienced the sad results of the polar games of life, and these lessons are recalled vividly in their histories, old and recent. But unlike the civilizational experiment, surviving indigenous peoples consciously chose to learn from their past errors of duality.

Such attention to balance in living was alluded to in the following words by an Iroquois orator during colonial times, raccounting what life had been like before the White Man arrived,

When we were in power,
they went on in harmony.

And, the early twentieth century Lakota Indian sage, Chief Luther Standing Bear, got to the heart of the matter in his his observation that,

True civilization lies in the dominance of self
and not in the dominance of other men.

I can personally attest to the Native American way of wisdom-in-living, having resided for many years amid the genteel Navajo people. From this perspective I can see that we modern-day Americans have come but a short measure in our quest for the living grail of wholeness and happiness. Our dilemma stems from holding to a collective vision based on deep dualism - of human and natural worlds in collision.

We have been equipped since earliest civilizational times to be a society in conflict – at war. We revel in opposing political factions, wielding sabers of words and deeds in unending and numbing contest. No wonder that the brutal game of American football was originally created to teach young officers the Euro-American form of “attack and hold” warfare.

Can such dualism ever be conducive to wellbeing? Are long term harmony and happiness likely to arise in societies having “reality frames” that are founded on extreme dichotomies such as: leaders and followers; the haves and have-nots; my team vs. your team; the well-cultured and mass-cultured; the one right way and all the other wrong ways; good and evil?

Superficial cultural differences aside, the world’s nation-states operate according to a common civilizational script, whose motto well might read:

From duality flows energy.

Duality creates psychosocial energy much as a swinging pendulum runs a mechanical clock. Indeed, we modernists closely follow the clockwork model that issued from Newton's Mechanistic Age and its most influential mechanism.

Mechanism had created its own reality right from the start of the civilizational experiment.

Consider the technic of the written word. Humanity’s first writing system - cunieform inscriptions into hardened clay – was developed in ancient Sumer to record commercial transactions. Sumer was the first Mesopotamian civilization and the model that all old world civilizations have since followed.

Five millennia onward humanity witnessed another technical revolution in literacy. The moveable-type printing press of Gutenberg enabled the mass printing of books and broadsides. Its deep effect on the transmission of knowledge was a significant factor in the rise of Protestantism and peasant uprisings during the unsettling shift away from feudalism in Europe.

The mechanical world picture has had a powerful effect on person and society everywhere. While not inherently unwholesome, it can be a dangerous influence on state, military, church or commerce in the absence of the mediating presence of humane values and genuine empathy.

We are seeing major mechanism-induced unrest again in our lifetimes, particularly with the advent of the digital revolution. Computers bring interesting yet often unsettling knowledge and influences into our lives. They are not panaceas. Whatever happened to the paperless office, and to all that leisure time promised by the coming of the computer? And then there are the dangers in online chat rooms to unsuspecting youths, and the potential for uncensored surveillance of the rest of us.

An unhealthy focus on mechanism is the natural fruit and active seed of a dualistic vision of self, society and world.

Dualism is one of two fundamental life roads available for human beings to travel. There is dualism’s Path of the Pendulum. And, there is the time-proven Way of the Web of Life. For without wisdom knowing the web, the dive into duality along the civilizational pendulum becomes inevitable.

Our Foundational Vision

The civilisation of ancient Greece was nurtured within city walls.
In fact, all the modern civilisations have their cradles of brick and mortar.
These walls leave their mark deep in the minds of men.
They set up a principle of "divide and rule" in our mental outlook,
which begets in us a habit of securing all our conquests by fortifying them
and separating them from one another.
We divide nation and nation, knowledge and knowledge, man and nature.
It breeds in us a strong suspicion of whatever is beyond the barriers we have built,
and everything has to fight hard for its entrance into our recognition.
Rabindranath Tagore, Sadhana

In 1936, a two thousand year old ceramic vessel was unearthed in the Mesopotamian region of present day Iraq. This type of discovery was hardly a surprise in the land of Sumer and Babylon, a region whose earth is deeply encrusted with the detritus of extinct civilizations.

What made this ovoid jar so special were the iron and copper elements fixed within its lid by means of a daub of petroleum tar, along with evidence of their having been corroded by a fruity acid. Any eighth grade science student, not diverted by the unusual look of the vessel, would readily recognize the ancient object to be the electric battery it surely had to have been.

“Impossible,” one might say. “How can electricity have been known 2000 years ago (and probably earlier in Sumerian and Babylonian times)?” Yet, why could it not have been invented then and there, considering the dualistic spirit that was the zeitgeist of Mesopotamian times?

A battery operates on the principle of extreme electrical duality. The battery is like the pendulum clock – which in turn reflects the character of the civilization that had devised it.

Let’s ponder how a battery operates. Proper conditions for an electrical current to flow are created at its two poles. To complete the circuit, to begin the flow of electrons, the current must be made to work: to create light, motion or the storage of digital information. In the process a lightbulb glows, a motor turns, a computer computes.

The battery maintains an artificial imbalance of electrons, those elusive elementary particles which compose the electrical current. To generate electricity requires at minimum two metallic rods immersed in an acidic solution (in Mesopotamia, lemon juice or vinegar would well have served the purpose). At one metallic electrode, the cathode, a surplus of electrons is produced. While the other metallic pole, the anode, suffers from a scarcity of electrons.

In their state of imbalance, the electrons strive to reunite into equilibrium. The disparity is remedied by way of a metal wire, which connects the electron-rich pole with the electron-poor one. In so doing, electrical energy flows and, given the natural resistance of its molecular structure, the wire begins to glow hot.

Insert the bare wire inside a sealed glass vessel emptied of air, and you have a light bulb. Today we use electricity to operate a motor, computer, electroplating system, electric chair. The uses of the battery (and the later electric generator) are unlimited, given adequate power (amperage) behind those poor electrons seeking equilibrium within their vitriolic bath.

And vitriolic, too, is the land of origin of the “Bagdad Batteries,” the milieu in which the duality vision of old world civilization first had taken form. Today’s Sunnis and Shiites continue to tragically enact the duality script that had once built then torn down the Tower of Babel (“the Hanging Gardens of Babylon”).

In Mesopotamian society, human laborers served as its social electrons. Instead of metal poles there were the fields of grain and domesticated herds, together with mines producing precious metals and jewels. To continue the metaphor, civilization’s acidic bath was the vitriol of divisive dualism imbuing the culture and its times. In short order, surplus wealth – social energy - had been amassed, but at the expense of precious human and natural resources.

Thus the die was cast. The original civilizational script spread by way of cultural transmission and trade to Egypt, Greece, Rome and Britain. And it remains today intact, within each of us able to read these words.

The old civilizational frame for referencing the world now frames our world picture. It sees energy in oppositions, creativity in conflict and productivity in striving for balance. Irony of ironies, it is being reenacted at the time of this writing in the land of its inception by two of its foremost contemporary cultural descendants, the Iraqis and Americans.

The dissipative ethos of "work and suffer for your rest" has increasingly become the world’s prevailing mantra since the behmoth of civilization began its inexorable slouch toward the future.

About eight thousand years ago near eastern indigenous peoples, living until then according to the neolithic or new stone age way of cultivating Nature, began to forget their timeless wisdoms-in-living. They fell intoxicated under the spell of material plenty and their own cleverness in making it happen. They began exploiting their environmental and human resources at whim and without limit. “The bigger the barley harvest, the better the barley harvest” might well have been their refrain.

They lost touch with fundamental, aboriginal values regarding responsible membership in the web of life. They parted from their founding vision of a living homeostasis, in which change was always ongoing but where there was room for varied modes of life to make their way in the world.

Civilization had traded its living garden of diversity for the taste of the alluring fruit of dualism from off the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Early progenitors of the civilizational way created a metaphorical snapshot of this moment, preserved in an episode from an early Mesopotamian story. It was later re-formed into the Old Testament’s Genesis account of the Fall from the Garden of Eden (the garden most likely being Mesopotamia itself).

Reconciliatory Steps

Like the battery, we now dance to that ancient duality song. And we’ll likely continue to do so, so long as we solely reckon our histories and realities “civilizationally.”

When Rome bequeathed the civilizational model to Britain, along with it came another biblical story. It told of two brothers in conflict beyond cooperation - tragic children of Father Nation and Mother Nature.

The biblical story of Cain and Abel, sons of Eve and Adam, is a powerful metaphor to the division between peoples following Nature's Way and those immersed in Civilization's Way.

Daniel Quinn excellently observed in Ishmael that Abel, the milder and more peaceful brother, embodied the way of the Neolithic pastoralist (and, it could be said, the sustainable gardener). While Cain, the senior and more cunning brother, signified civilization’s large-scale farmer (and rancher). "Abel-mind" retained conscious and responsible membership in the web of life. “Cain-mind” knew the web as a treasury of resources to be utilized freely and to its fullest extent.

So the pressing challenge that affects us in these times, immersed as we are in the civilizational vision, lies in discovering a way toward reconciliation between the two poles of our anciently-wounded, collective spirit; a quest to find a point of sustaining balance and wholeness.

But the reality of these times is that our extreme American visions and values have eviscerated their common, middle ground. It started with the earliest settlers from Europe holding on for dear life in a strange new land, to the old, wildly-swinging, reality pendulum.

Puritans and the Enlightenment Men attempted to establish a new world society in projection of each their hopes and dreams. But the process was inherently flawed from the start. Neither party possessed the full picture, nor, certainly, the “one right way.”

Each embodied fragments of ideas and ways of their homeland, one as intelligencia, the other as moralists. One saw succor in thinking and reason, the other in praying and faith. One looked toward building a utopian future, the other toward enacting a utopian past.

But hope for the future must be structured upon the wisdom of the past. Are not faith and reason both necessary for navigating the human condition? Are they not, each, necessary aspects of the One and, therefore, of one another?

Indigenous cultures and spiritually-oriented peoples worldwide still honor the two-in-one notion that all beings are inseparate from one another and from the creative source. This knowledge leads to an unified body and mind within each person. And by extension, it creates a happy and peaceful society. Sadly, their example has so far proven elusive to the modern, "civilized" world.

Dividuals and Individuals

Deep dualism has fragmented contemporary America into a schizophrenic nation. Whereas both camps hold to laudable ideals, such as love of family, keeping positive intentions, and striving to do good works, each lacks an integrated collective soul and vision of global and personal wholeness.

Becoming the best versions of ourselves is a challenge, even under the most ideal conditions of life. But the fragmentation into lesser versions of ourselves has been accelerated by civilization. We are mostly “dividuals,” divided beings, striving to regain our individual, undivided natures.

Right now, we tend toward having "two-hearts," which is the way that Hopi Indians would describe it. For the Hopi, two-hearted people are unstable, unreliable, potentially threatening to the wellbeing of themselves and community. Such minds (the Hopi say that mind is seated in the heart) are weak, volatile and fly from one divisive thought to the next.

To the Hopi wisdom holder, when a person strays too far toward a behavioral extreme or conflictive point of view, danger will arise for that person and others in contact with the two-hearted dividual. This extreme state of dualistic imbalance is called powaqatsi, the “way of witchcraft,” which leads to koyanisqatsi, “life out of balance.” From their vantage point of 500 years in observation of the dominating Euro-Americans, traditional Hopi will sometimes use such anti-spiritual terms to describe the prevailing American way of life.

The Puritans brought a hardened worldview centered on the notion of a "one right way." They fled a homeland engulfed in dissention, as former participants in that unrest. They sought refuge in a new world where, unfortunately, they promptly turned to burning their earth religion-practicing “witches” and to dispatching the indigenous Indians. Ironically, both could well have taught the colonists much about the meaning of being civilized.

The Puritans’ uneasy partners in American society - the Enlightenment Men - were similarly highly-ideological and quick to action. Their world vision issued from the hubristically titled, "European Enlightenment." It continues in the modern system of science and, at its benign best, in the tradition of secular humanism. But they too remained blind to the suffering of Indians, and Africans, neither of whom were given a say in the founding of the new nation.

The Enlightenment Men brought the spirit of learning and (limited) social egalitarianism to the American colonies - a gift of the Renaissance. But their vision and way in the world became mechanical and self-serving, increasingly fired by addiction to the notion of material progress as being the "one right way" for achieving lasting happiness.

Two visions, two ways in the world; both became frozen at the extremes of their civilizational reality. One was the religious protester, the Protestant; the other, the rationalist and empire builder. They were missionary and architect; priest and scientist. And the results of their ideological and social two-heartedness can be encountered throughout American history and into contemporary life.

Dueling Arts

The two sides of our fragmented world vision took different guises as the centuries progressed. One wide-ranging version of the perpetual seesaw was enacted in the skirmish between the Classicists and the Romantics during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And, it can be heard still in their respective classical musics.

I remember during the 1960’s how Baroque and Early (Medieval and Renaissance) Music were in fashion. There was something wonderfully transcendent about these otherwise highly-structured and predictable sonic traditions. Within their musical structures was a deep presence of the spirit, of soulfulness. Feeling and deep intent radiated from the melodies and harmonies. I could listen to just about any piece by Bach, Handel, Josquin or Palestrina and sense the soul in it.

But then (and here I know I’m stepping on some readers’ musical toes), one need only listen to a piece by Mozart or one by a composer son of J.S. Bach. The organically-unfolding harmonies, understated sensuality and infused spirituality of the Baroque and Early Music composers gave way in their later Classical style of composition to a mechanical clockwork structure. Its musical voicings - while clever, playful, dramatic, even inspired - were often shallow and fleeting in feeling and effect.

Little wonder that in this day and age Mozart is all the rage.

To illustrate my thesis, I can recall the comments of a remarkable musician and scholar, Dr. Helmut Hoffmann, whom I had known early in my career. He was originally a concert pianist and by the time we’d met, a world-renowned scholar of Tibetan religion.

I once had asked him about which composers he particularly enjoyed. His answer at first perplexed me. "I listen to music up through Bach,” was his reply.

"But, Dr. Hoffmann,” I responded, “what about our wonderful later composers, such as Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel, Stravinsky, and the like?"

"Listen,” he retorted somewhat testily, "up through Bach [who was born before the European Enlightenment] they composed for God; after Bach they composed for ego."

In this critique of the Western mind and its way of creativity was a fine Buddhist teaching. It pointed out that to be deeply moved by the spirit of music (or art, science or religion), it must be imbued with a meaning and beauty that can only be revealed in an egoless manner.
When one’s reputation, success or public persona becomes a major motivator in the endeavor, even an unconscious one, then a certain degree of aesthetic and structural perfection may well be attained. But it is likely to be a soulless, mechanical kind of symmetry and beauty.

In hindsight, Dr. Hoffmann’s comments served up a powerful metaphor to the state of collective psychospiritual duality now imbuing the United States of America.

Remembering Wholeness

Our present human condition basically comes down to the widely-quoted observation by the philosopher, George Santayana:

Those who do not remember the lessons of the past are condemned to repeat it.

Unquestionably, there are some major unlearned lessons in America’s brief past.

Less than a century and a half ago, America exploded into “Civil War,” or “War Between the States” (the name depending on one’s contending point of view). But at its root, it was neither civil nor a matter of states (in the sense of nations) being involved. The North and the South were however two very different states of mind.

I believe that they were nineteenth century reincarnations of the Puritan-Deist schism. Historians might debate this, but it seems to this student of culture that the South, fresh from the massively vitalizing, “campmeeting movement” of evangelical Christianity and still strongly rooted in distinctive social and agrarian ways, came head to head with quite different kinds of Americans populating the North.

The predominating world picture of the North was that of the Enlightenment Men, one of material and social progress, human industry and science (separated, officially at least, from the influence of the church through the tenets of the national secular bible, the Constitution).

Far from being relics of the past, both perspectives continue to fuel contemporary American society’s dualism. Successful society is like a ceramic vessel or a bolt of whole cloth, which are fired and woven in harmony. But drop the vessel or tear the cloth through clumsiness or anger and they become fragments, incomplete versions of themselves. This is the current state of American life and mind.

Similarly, during the 1960-70’s, the era of the Vietnam War, America had been embroiled in another conflict closer to home. It was engaged between well-intentioned, socially-engaged American youth and their equally well-meaning parents. The latter were consumed with providing their disinterested children the good life, of which they had been deprived during their own youths.

The disconnect between the reality visions of the two generations were key points of social conflict in those days. And it was no coincidence that the Cold War between capitalism and communism was simultaneously raging, exacerbating the intergenerational strife.

Nowadays we have the red and the blue states. We have atheists and evangelicals; neo-liberal conservatives and conservation-minded liberals; the lawful and the (increasingly) criminal; nation states and terrorists. Ad nauseum staggers our dualistic mass delusion.

And it looks likely that we will continue to fling out our meaningless oppositions as easily as we name our cars, toys and pharmaceuticals. The underlying script is conducive to this, in fact relies upon oppositions to allow our way of life continue to operate.

Will we continue to labor under a fragmented, dualistic and dissipative pendulum in knowing and living? Or can we redirect our creative genius to rediscovering, in the heat of divisiveness, our essential roots as members of the dynamic and self-vitalizing web of life, of which we are currently confused and fragmented members?

The choice is ours to make.

Peace starts within each of us.
When we have inner peace,
we can be at peace with those around us.
When our community is in a state of peace,
it can share that peace with neighboring communities.
Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama