Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
THE ENCHANTED LAND
The Faqir: Baba Faqir Chand
"People say that my Form manifests to them and helps them in solving their worldly as well as mental problems, but I do not go anywhere, nor do I know about such miraculous instances."
After meeting personally with Baba Faqir Chand, it became exceedingly apparent to myself and Professor Mark Juergensmeyer (who visited Manavta Mandir in late August of 1978. See Juergensmeyer's book Radhasoami Reality (Princeton University Press, 1991) that the old sage was something of an anomaly amongst Indian gurus. For, although Faqir Chand had a rather large and devoted following (numbering in the thousands), he absolutely disclaimed himself of any miracles attributed to his spiritual work, saying quite frankly that they were products of either the devotee's previous karma or intense faith. Indeed, it was this very insight which led Faqir to his own Enlightenment.
When Faqir Chand began to initiate disciples into Surat Shabd Yoga, at the request of his master Shiv Brat Lal, a most curious thing happened. His devotees began reporting that Faqir's radiant form appeared inside their meditations. Others related miracles that were caused by Faqir's prashad (blessed food), letters, or advice. However, all during this time Faqir claims that he had absolutely no knowledge or awareness of his form appearing to distant provinces or performing miracles to the sick and dying. As Faqir himself wrote: "People say that my Form manifests to them and helps them in solving their worldly as well as mental problems, but I do not go anywhere, nor do I know about such miraculous instances." (Faqir Chand, The Essence Of The Truth, Hoshiarpur: Faqir Charitable Library Trust, n.d./1976?).
It was at this point when Faqir asked himself: "What about the visions that appear to me? Are they a creation of my own mind, and does my guru also not know about his appearances to me?" Only then, according to Faqir, did he realize the truth: "All manifestations, visions, and forms that are seen within are mental (illusory) creations." (Faqir Chand, The Secret of Secrets, Hoshiarpur: Faqir Charitable Library Trust, 1975).
After his realization, Faqir began preaching his belief that all saints, from Buddha, Christ, to even his own master Shiv Brat Lal are ignorant about the miracles or inner experiences attributed to them. In a paper given to the American Academy of Religion in March 1981, I used the term "The Unknowing Hierophany" to describe what Faqir Chand believes; that is, a "Divine" vehicle within the temporal world that is unaware of its spiritual manifestations. A revised form of this original paper was published under the title "The Hierarchical Structure of Religious Visions," in The Journal Of Transpersonal Psychology (Volume 15, Number 1).
Though Faqir is probably the most outspoken, other great religious leaders, saints and mystics have expounded on this same unknowingness. However, it is not seen by most (especially devotees) as an explanation of their subservience to the Great Mystery, but rather as a statement designed to exhibit the saint's humility, or as a tacit attempt for concealing his real mission and purpose.
Jesus, for instance, is reported in the Gospel of Mark as asking the crowd that was following him, "Who touched me?" After this, a woman who had suffered from a flow of blood for twelve years came up to Jesus and told him about her plan for a Divine cure. By a brief touch a miracle happened, as she was cured from hemorrhaging. At this Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith has made you well." (Saint Mark, translated and edited by D.E. Nineham, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976).
The famed sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi, when asked about Jesus' power to perform miracles, substantiates what Faqir Chand had taught for over forty years: “Was Jesus aware at the time that he was curing men of their diseases. He could not have been conscious of his powers. “Such manifestations are as real as your own reality. In other words, when you identify yourself with the body as in jagrat, you see gross objects; when in subtle body or in mental plane as in svapna , you see objects equally subtle; in absence of identification as in Sushupti, you see nothing. The objects seen bear relation to the state of the seer. The same applies to visions of God (Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi, Volume I, II, and III. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1972, pages 17 and 355).
Along with this "unknowingness" there is also the internal, ever-present supreme knowledge which saints and sages have described as the hallmark of Enlightenment. Jesus said, "The Father and I are one." The Sufi martyr, Mansur al-Hallaj, shouted before his execution, "ana'l-Haqq" (I am the Truth). Sarmad, the Jewish-Indian saint, exclaimed, "I am King of Kings." And Meister Eckhart, in slightly different language wrote, "The eye with which God sees me is the same eye which I perceive Him."
These quotations illustrate that mysticism is concerned with spiritual knowledge: the relationship of the soul with God, and not with any secondary psychic abilities which may arise as a result of intense spiritual discipline.
However, this kind of knowledge (the internal, ever-present supreme knowledge which saints and sages have described as the hallmark of Enlightenment) CANNOT be equated with logical, objective learning. The former is the realization of one's eternal nature, a transcendental experience of oneness. The latter is concerned with dualistic thinking, knowing about things--that which is based upon an illusory division of the world into two separate components: the subject and the object. Thus, when saints talk about the ultimate knowledge , they are referring to the Ground of Being, that which is the condition for all subsequent conditions. Consequently, an Enlightened master may not know anything about academic subjects such as quantum mechanics, anthropology, or critical history.
As Ken Wilber astutely comments, "I have yet to see a guru run a four-minute mile with his 'perfect body' or explain Einstein's special theory of relativity with his 'perfect mind.' Perfection lies only in conscious transcendence, not in concrete manifestation." (Spiritual Choices, New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1987, page 258).
Even though Faqir Chand was not conscious of his miraculous powers or his healing gifts (nor, evidently, are most other gurus), does it necessarily hold that all masters are likewise ignorant about their visionary manifestations? Moreover, is it true that all religious visions are individual creations, determined by the faith and concentration of zealous devotees? At first glance, the answer would appear to be "yes," because many internal visions are not of factual and historical human entities, but of amalgamated characters, mythic beings, and fictional heroines--some whose life stories may be entirely based upon the writer's own creative mind.
For example, Paul Twitchell made up the literary figure, Rebazar Tarzs, claiming that the Tibetan monk was over 500 hundred years old and resided in a remote region in the Himalayan mountains. Although Rebazar Tarzs does not, in fact, exist, devoted followers of Paul Twitchell's religious movement, Eckankar, claim to have extraordinary visions of him. What is transpiring is fairly obvious: when one ascends to a different level of awareness (like in Out of Body Experiences -- OBE -- or Near Death Experiences -- NDE --) they interpret the inner light according to their own particular cultural background. Sikhs see Guru Nanak, not Moses; Catholics see the Virgin Mary, not Buddha; and Eckists see Rebazar Tarzs, not the store clerk at 7/11 (for more on this phenomenon, see my chapter, "Gakko Came From Venus: The Invention Of A Religious Tradition," in Exposing Cults, New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1993).
However, on closer inspection it becomes apparent that some masters claim to know about their subtle interactions with disciples and that certain visions may not be merely due to extreme faith or concentration.
This psychic awareness, as it were though, apparently arises spontaneously and is not the product of any sustained conscious manipulation. A classic example of a fully conscious bilocation experience comes surprisingly enough from Ramana Maharshi, a sage who did not show even the slightest interest in psychic powers or abilities. Recounts Arthur Osborne, Ramana's biographer:
About a year after his first meeting with Sri Bhagavan, Ganapathi Muni experienced a remarkable outflow of his Grace. While he was sitting in meditation in the temple Tiruvottiyur he felt distracted and longed intensely for the presence and guidance of the Bhagavan. At that moment Sri Ramana entered the temple. Ganapati prostrated himself before him and, as he was about to rise, he felt the Maharshi's hand upon his head and a terrifically vital force coursing through his body from the touch; so that he also received Grace by touch from the Master. Speaking about this incident in later years, Sri Ramana Maharshi said:
"One day, some years ago, I was lying down and awake when I distinctly felt my body rise higher and higher. I could see the physical objects below growing smaller and smaller until they disappeared and all around me was a limitless expanse of dazzling light. After some time I felt the body slowly descend and the physical objects below began to appear. I was so fully aware of this incident that I finally concluded that it must be by such means that Sages using the powers of Siddhis travel over vast distances in a short time and appear and disappear in such a mysterious manner. While the body thus descended to the ground it occurred to me that I was at Tiruvottiyurthough I had never seen the place before. I found myself on a highroad and walked along it. At some distance from the roadside was a temple of Ganapati and I entered it."
This incident is very characteristic of Sri Bhagavan. It is characteristic that the distress or devotion of one of his people should call forth an involuntary response and intervention in a form that can only be called miraculous (Arthur Osborne, Ramana Maharshi And The Path of Self-Knowledge, Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1982, pages 93-94). Ramana's experience of bilocation indicates that Faqir Chand's categorical statement about all gurus not knowing about their visionary manifestations may need qualifications. Simply put, some saints appear to know about their miraculous appearances. The number of these "fully aware" mystics, however, is so incredibly small that it is not an exaggeration to say that Faqir Chand's "unknowing" hypothesis explains 99% of all the so-called guru visions in the world. The overwhelming majority of inner visions are projections of one's own mind which have no substantial "reality check" with either the outer world or the higher inner regions. Furthermore, the object of devotion in these transpersonal encounters are, for the most part, not aware of their role.
The Chandian Effect, so named because Faqir Chand was the first Sant Mat guru to speak at length about the "unknowing" aspects of visionary manifestations, designates two major factors in transpersonal encounters: 1) the overwhelming experience of certainty ( ganz andere/mysterium tremendum) which accompanies religious ecstasies; and 2) the subjective projection of sacred forms/figures/scenes by a meditator/devotee without the conscious knowledge of the object/person who is beheld as the center of the experience.
Thus, the general Chandian Effect covers almost all transpersonal visions. Ramana's experience and others like his represents a very small, bracketed, "special" case scenario. As such, it warrants further inspection, but should not be misconstrued as a general reference point with which to adjudicate transmundane happenings.
Concerning these "special cases," Sawan Singh, a deeply admired master in the Surat Shabd Yoga tradition (1858-1948), for whom both Faqir Chand and his teacher Shiv Brat Lal had tremendous regard, wrote that the outward guru can and does know about the inner condition of his disciples. This knowledge, Sawan Singh pointed out, is conveyed to the physical master via the inner Shabd (Divine Sound), though only in extreme cases where the outer master's attention is needed (see Sawan Singh's letters to American and European disciples in Spiritual Gems and The Dawn of Light published by the Radhasoami Beas Satsang).
Writes Sawan Singh to one of his disciples:
“Now regarding your question about the Inner Master and that Inner Master guiding the disciple, first of all, what is the Inner Master? The Real Saint or Perfect Master is one with the Supreme Lord, having merged His Being with the Supreme. Now, as the Supreme Lord has all power, so do the Perfect Masters. He can do as He pleases, and anywhere and always, so that He may better work with, protect, and instruct and guide His disciples. Every time He gives the initiation to anyone, He creates an Astral Image of Himself in the disciple. And from then on, the Master never leaves the disciple. The Double, or Other Self, or Image of the Master is sometimes what we call the Inner Master. Now, if anything occurs in the life of the disciple that requires the personal attention of the Master, here (in India) in the Body--this Inner Master at once reports to the Conscious Master (in India) and the Conscious Master gives the thing his personal attention. The Master sometimes calls these Doubles of Himself his agents. They do his work, taking care of all his disciples. They have the power to act without limit. They can do what the Master wishes Them to do, and They obey His orders. The human side of the Master here (in India) may not know what is going on in the life of that person. It may be on the other side of the globe. He will not be aware of the details, but He can know them if He wishes. But manifestly, you see how difficult it would be for any one man, as man, to go to all parts of the world and take care of so many. If the Master had a million disciples, He would have an Astral Double of Himself in every one of them, and that Agent of the Master would look after the disciple at all times, reporting to the Master here (in India) only in case of extreme emergency.” (extract from "A Letter By The Great Master To A Disciple," Science Of The Soul, June, 1985).
Hence, according to this perspective, the outward master does not know most of the time. Similar to Ramana Maharshi's experience, the Beas master learns of his visionary manifestations on only special occasions. The modus operandi behind how certain masters could possibly know about their disciple's spiritual experiences is explained in a remarkable passage by Da Kalki (alias Da Love Ananda; Da Free John; Bubba Free John; Franklin Jones):
"After that time [that is, after Da Free John achieved Enlightenment], when I would sit for meditation in any formal way, instead of contemplating what was arising in myself, I would contemplate other beings as my own forms. Instead of my own psychic forms arising, the psychic forms, minds, and limitations of others would arise. I was aware, visually and otherwise, of great numbers of people, and I would work with them very directly on a subtle level. In some cases, these people would soon contact me and become involved with me in a personal relationship. Others were people I already knew. I would work for them in the subtle way, and then watch for signs and demonstrations in their outward lives of the reality of that manifestation. I tested everything in this manner." (Bubba (Da) Free John, The Enlightenment Of The Whole Body, Clearlake: Dawn Horse Press, 1978, page 38).
Charan Singh, the late head of the Radhasoami Satsang at Beas, for instance, chose disciples for initiation by simply looking at them. I have personally seen thousands of people file directly in front of Charan Singh and in a matter of a few seconds he turns his head to the left or to the right, indicating whether the seeker was accepted or rejected for Nam-Dan.
Nam-Dan is a ceremony where the living Satguru gives the "Gift of Nam" or Initiation to chosen disciples. It includes precise details about how to meditate and withdraw one's consciousness from the physical body by means of a three-fold method: simran (repetition of holy name(s)), dhyan (contemplation of the inner light or the guru's form within); and bhajan (listening to the divine sound current). There are several movies which have filmed this unusual selection process for Nam-Dan, including Satguru (London 1976), The Dera Documentary (Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, Beas, India, 1970's), and Guiding Light (Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, Beas, India 1983). I personally witnessed the event inside the famous Satsang Ghar at Dera in the Winter of 1981.Needless to say, it is an awe-inspiring sight, and one which I confess is beyond my limited comprehension.
During his second world tour in 1970, Maharaj Charan Singh was asked the following question: "Is the physical Master aware of all the initiates' inner experiences?" Charan Singh's answer demonstrates that the outer master does know about his visionary manifestations. Responded Charan Singh: "Our real Master, as I just told you, is the Shabd and Nam. And when we are connected with that Shabd and Nam, that Shabd and Nam takes care of us. The physical Master, of course, is aware of all that. [My emphasis.] But, you see, it is Shabd and Nam which is our real Master, that takes care of everything." (Thus Saith The Master, Beas: R.S. Foundation, 1974, page 150).
Another example of extraordinary manifestations which go beyond Faqir Chand's hypothesis of unknowingness comes from Baba Jaimal Singh, the first guru of the Beas satsang and a personal disciple of the founder of Radhasoami, Shiv Dayal Singh. In the following excerpts, Jaimal Singh details a most remarkable physical bilocation of his guru. Recollects Baba-Ji:
“Once, during Christmas, the army units were allowed four holidays. As I had no official duty assigned to me during that period, I felt that I could best spend it in meditation in my room. Accordingly, I told the cook that I should not be disturbed, that if I needed food I would personally ask for it. Also, if anybody asked for me, he should be told that I was out. It so happened that soon thereafter my presence was required for writing some accounts.
However, as my door was locked, everybody who came to call me went back disappointed. Meanwhile, the officer of the Unit had demanded full account from the clerk who really did not know what to do in my absence. Just when a thought crossed his mind that he should report my absence to the officer, he saw me and heard me say to him that he should take down the account. This the clerk did. Such accounts were rendered three times daily, and were thereafter sent to the officer concerned by the clerk immediately after he got them. This continued on all the four days during which I was engaged in meditation in my room. However, I knew nothing about it, for I would leave my room only at four o'clock in the morning and ten o'clock at night just to answer nature's call. When the holidays were over and I came out of my room, I was called in for accounts for the day previous only. I explained to the clerk that I had been confined to my room for the last four days and had not given any accounts at all for the entire period. The clerk then called the two persons who had been present at the time the accounts were rendered. One of them even produced the paper from which I had actually dictated, saying that I could myself ascertain whether this was the account written by me in my own hand. When I examined thispaper, I found it to be exactly what it should have been. I silently meditated upon Huzur Swami Ji's Feet and bowed in gratitude for His unbounded Grace in representing me during my absence and carrying out the job assigned to me for that period (Baba Jaimal Singh, Spiritual Letters Beas: R.S. Foundation, 1984, pages 13- 14). In the same book Jaimal Singh relates several other extraordinary bilocation experiences.”
Although Jaimal Singh's experience was extraordinary, there have been other reports by mystics of similar physical bilocation excursions. The important point to remember, though, is that such experiences are the exception , not the rule in mysticism. The value of Faqir Chand's revelations of ignorance is that most gurus (I am tempted to say all ) in India and elsewhere are in the same lot, but falsely parade their attainments to sincere, if gullible, disciples. Faqir's startling insights show that most religious visions are, in fact, products of one's own mind.
When I use the term "mind" here it should be equated with "imagination." Naturally, all visions are of the mind in the strict sense of the term, but those manifestations which cannot be correlated by others either in this world or the higher worlds are, for the most part, merely vivid extensions of one's imagination.
However, we should not take Faqir's confessions as precluding the possibility that certain rare saints do have access to knowledge far beyond our comprehension, and that being residents of those higher regions have the ability to directly transmit such information to their respective followers.
If I may interject a personal note here, I must confess that I find myself more and more agreeing with Faqir Chand and his claims of unknowingness. As a seasoned observer of the guru scene, most of what I discover is petty human motivations. To be sure, there are gurus who have deeply impressed me with their compassion and humility (Charan Singh being, at least for me, the most impressive), but I have yet to unearth an airtight, empirical case for genuine psychic powers. There are always some uninspected loopholes which reveal that natural (versus supernatural) processes were involved. I realize that my skepticism will turn off a number of parapsychology buffs, but in light of Occam's Razor I see no overwhelming evidence to suggest that Faqir Chand's autobiographical admissions are not right on the mark. For further clarification see: Siddhi, Apportation Revisited, Chaos Magic and Joriki: Mind Power in the Zen Tradition.
Moreover, we should keep in mind that Faqir Chand's use of the term "ignorance" has two meanings. First, Faqir uses the term in an absolute sense equating "Ignorance" (with a capital "I") with God, thereby agreeing with many saints and mystics that the Lord is an unqualified Mystery (as Shiv Dayal Singh put it: "Wonder, Wonder, Wonder; Wonder hath assumed a form"). In this reference, there will most likely be little debate with Faqir Chand. However, Faqir also uses the term "ignorance" to describe his realization that gurus do not know about their visionary manifestations. As we have noted, there may be exceptions to this general rule, though they have yet to be empirically verified.