The Koan of the Historical Christ

Koans are riddles of existence, enigmatic statements that probe the depths of Buddha nature. Posed by Chinese sages with a mischievous sense of humor, they challenge the meditator to get inside the phenomenon of emptiness, to realize it for oneself and embody it. Responses to koans are often acted out in the dramatic setting of dokusan, or personal interviews with one’s teacher.

When a koan is trotted out before a nonmeditating friend, it can lead to extraordinary contortions. For example, this little charmer:

Say something without moving your lips and tongue.

Simple. But as your clever friend strains their wits to solve the dilemma, mumbling out answers or scribbling in the dirt with a finger, it’s obvious the riddle is perfectly impenetrable without logging some serious time on the meditation cushion.

Koans teach about transformation too, but not the magical kind. At least in my own experience, they teach how life and death are the same matter. Indistinguishable. And that when we realize “self-nature, self-nature that is no nature,” we go beyond “mere doctrine.”

Yet they must be penetrated first. Seen into. Experienced from within, not tinkered with from without.

The ethnobotanist and Amazonian explorer Mark Plotkin recently challenged me to write a book on Jesus as shaman. When I broached the idea to my 11 year old daughter, she protested vigorously.

“Jesus is way bigger than that!” He’s a spirit and you can’t claim he’s just one thing or another.”

And she was right. There are hundreds of “Jesuses” in contemporary culture, and if you add the many versions of Jesus that existed in the past – from the Jesus of St Francis of Assisi to the Jesus of the Inquisition — it’s justifiable to declare, as my daughter Maitreya did, any version of Jesus as glaringly incomplete, if not downright absurd.

Or worse: A crock, a holdover of an era of mystery religions that cling to us like a vestigial growth.

From the perspective of what we now know about the historical Jesus, and it’s become quite a bit, Christianity is an aberration. When the Temple fabric was rent, it was the soul of Humanity that was torn and no serious mind, able to hold the tremendity of the grief and joy of our species, can deny it.

Jesus, the healer, the wonder worker, the prophet, the lover of the people of Israel, the Messiah whose heart was broken well before his body upon a cross, was very likely a significantly different figure even from the one depicted in the Gospels, written as they were decades after Jesus’ life and by then divorced from the Jewish community of Jesus — whose family continued worshipping in the Temple, the heart of Judaism.

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What the Psychedelic Renaissance Could Learn from Amazonian Shamans

When ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin showed up on the UC Berkeley campus for this interview, he was accompanied by a shaman. And it was no blond guy with dreadlocks from Brooklyn who presided over weekend ayahuasca ceremonies, either.

Don Fernando was a member of the Ingano tribe, a soft-spoken middle-aged man wearing a baseball cap who Plotkin had brought to the United States as part of a campaign to help him protect his people from the violent incursions into their region by timber and oil companies. Unlike most anthropologists, who may work to document dying cultures before they are snuffed out, Plotkin’s organization, the Amazon Conservation Team, or ACT (www.amazonteam.org), has been remarkably effective in doing something to protect the rainforest, its peoples, and its shamans.

Cultural and ecological survival is high-stakes work, however. Before arriving, Plotkin said, “You can photograph me if you want, but no photos of the shaman. If his image got back to Colombia, it could be very dangerous.”

As one of the few remaining swashbuckling ethnobotanists trained by the legendary Amazonian explorer Richard Evans Schultes, Plotkin also has a deep, abiding love of the healing and visionary plants of the rainforest. He is the author of several books: Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice, Medicine Quest, and his newly released The Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know.

While he claims that as a scientist the “technology of the spirit” practiced by shamans is beyond his understanding, it is likely that the two men who settled into their seats in the campus coffee shop knew more about shamanism than could be found on the shelves of the nearby UC Berkeley library.

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A Psychedelic Eucharist? Brian C. Muraresku’s The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name

Over the years, I have seen some wild callings. A geologist shows up in the rainforest to study a mysterious boiling river, drinks the brew of the local shaman, meets the spirit of the river and becomes the ecosystem’s champion on a global scale. A young man drinks ayahuasca and, through much fortuitous circumstance, gets his medical degree at Stanford so he can champion the use of plant medicines in healing. A young woman has a vision of the womb of life at a treatment center for addiction in Peru and goes on to study the phenomenology of healing experiences with icaros, or sacred songs, becoming a pioneer in the psychotherapeutic discipline of integration of psychedelic experiences.

The list goes on, of course.

This is what makes self-confessed “psychedelic virgin” Brian Muraresku’s “calling” to reclaim the memory of the original Christian sacrament all the more interesting. Stirred by the recent resurgence of psychedelic research, Mr. Muraresku, a lawyer and Jesuit trained scholar of the Classics (oh, let’s throw in Sanskrit for good measure) embarked upon a timely quest: to take up the tracks of classicist Carl Ruck, chemist Albert Hofmann, and mycologist Gordon Wasson in their groundbreaking 1978 publication, The Road to Eleusis. This work, largely reviled and ignored, wove a compelling case that the kykeon, or sacrament utilized in the ancient Eleusinian mysteries, was psychoactive and thus the visionary experience reported within the Telesterion were facilitated by sacred plants.

Continue reading “A Psychedelic Eucharist? Brian C. Muraresku’s The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name”

Tree: A Definition

I was recently invited to contribute to a glossary of “vital vocabulary” being compiled by Eliana Otta for the Ecoversities website. I chose the word “tree,” and quickly realized my task was impossible.

Tree: A Definition

In the forest on my land in Mendocino grows a Redwood tree. As ancient and strong as a dragon, she was a sapling when the pillars were first laid in the Norman cathedrals. Now she vaults into the heavens like Yggdrasil.

At times, I place my hand upon her thick bark and, her knight, swear to protect her to my dying breath, even as the sound of chainsaws oppress her forest. Other times, I crouch like a trembling mouse in her shelter, the agony of raging fires and deadly viruses overwhelming me. I hold on. “Root me. Come into my dreams. Free me of fear, oh holy one.” My head lies in a deep crevice in her trunk, gazing into the blue sky shimmering with green leaves.

The futility of defining her makes me laugh, she whose being, rooted in symbiosis throughout the forest, encoding and transmitting information from the sky, filled with centuries of wisdom and knowledge, is beyond the encompassing of my tiny awareness.

I only ask that I may be held by her, and all the Earth’s forests, until I breath my last into Her, the Great Mother of us all.

Goblins Are Cool!

When my daughter Maitreya was four years old, I read her her first novel, The Hobbit.

She was doing pretty good with it! She followed along as she met Bilbo and Gandalf, and showed interest in the dwarves and thought Rivendell, Elrond and the rest of the elves were good too. But her fascination only really awoke when we had followed the party up into the Misty Mountains and watched Thorin and Co get abducted by goblins!

Oh no! As the dwarves were led down into the dark, netherworld of the mountains, driven forward by ruthless, whip-wielding goblins singing horrible songs, Maitreya turned to me, excited, and declared, “Goblins are cool!”

I agreed. “Yeah, goblins are cool!” I said.

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Alcohol Is a Spirit: Healing Addiction in the Native American Church

The word Spirit, the “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” comes to us via the Latin spiritus, “soul, courage, vigor, breath,” and is related to spirare “to breathe.” Its plural form, spirits, or a “volatile substance,” is an alchemical idea, and it was only in the 1670s that it usage narrowed to its present meaning: “strong alcoholic liquor.”

Yet lurking within our modern, dry categorization of strong alcohol as “spirits” this original sense of animating power remains firmly entrenched. As Shakespeare’s Falstaff put it, a good sherris-sack “Ascends me into the brain, dries me there all the foolish and dull and crudy vapors which environ it, makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit.” Not only that, it breathes courage into the soul, it “illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm, and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain, the heart, who, great and puffed up with this retinue, doth any deed of courage, and this valor comes of sherris.”

This is the language of spiritual inspiration, not mere infatuation with a physical effect. Perhaps we should take ourselves at our word. What if alcohol really is a spirit? What is approaching it as a spirit is an effective way to heal addiction to alcohol?

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The Immolation of Notre Dame and Why We Might Want to Give Her Back to Nature Again

There is an old paradox discussed by Heraclitus, that great ancient philosopher of impermanence, called “The Ship of Theseus.” It poses this question: “Consider a ship that has, over its long lifetime, had every part replaced during its repair so that not even a single nail from its original construction remains. Is it still the same ship?”

There have been many solutions offered to this puzzle down through the centuries, and I can’t think of a moment where it’s more relevant to our generation than with the burning of Notre Dame. Already the international community is rallying and pledges towards its rebuilding are flowing in. The French president says that it will be “more beautiful than ever.” Yet will it be the same cathedral? Will it be Our Lady? Or will it be a replica, such as the pseudo-Cave of Lascaux, the reproduction of the original Paleolithic temple created to protect the original from destruction by tourist hordes? Beautiful, yes, but not the Cave.

Of course, our own bodies contain not a single molecule of our original version while purportedly containing atoms that once helped embody Shakespeare, Hitler, and Alexander the Great’s mortal frames, so from the perspective of this radical impermanence, all things really are essentially empty and utterly interconnected. Yet it’s impossible to shake that sense of continuity, of the accumulation of something called a “soul,” that remains the Ship of Theseus, even after all its timbers, ropes, and sailcloth have been replaced. It’s the “aura,” as the philosopher Walter Benjamin called it, which is accumulated through time and which cannot be replaced by “mechanical reproduction.”

The outpouring of grief over the immolation of Notre Dame is because, I believe, millions of us venerated Her as not just the heart of France, but as “ensouled.” For many of us, regardless of religious background and creed, She was a living being who we loved, with whom we had a personal relationship that has graced our existence.

I would like to share a story of Notre Dame that I hope will illustrate why. Continue reading “The Immolation of Notre Dame and Why We Might Want to Give Her Back to Nature Again”

Journey to the Heart: 12-Day Amazon Plant Medicine Retreat For Men at Mayantuyacu Dec. 28th to Jan. 9th

Juan Flores

Join your guides Robert Tindall (author of The Jaguar That Roams the Mind) and Brian James (yoga teacher & musician) on a special men’s retreat at Mayantuyacu, located deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle and situated along the sacred boiling river, for a 12-day Ayahuasca & Plant Medicine Retreat. Mayantuyacu is a centre dedicated to the study of sacred plants and preservation of indigenous knowledge and is home of the Asháninkan curandero, Maestro Juan Flores.

The intention of this pilgrimage is to give us men the opportunity to touch the core of our experience together: the wounding, passion, bliss, and fear of it all.

We men are carrying around a massive amount of shadow materials right now. In this retreat, we create together a container that is safe, immersed in the life of the rain forest, and held in a strong prayer. By peeling back that tough guy persona we men have to wear, we can be actual warriors instead, having the courage to finally bring forth our deeper selves. A lot of it comes from authentic listening, both to one another and to the medicine. As Christ put it in the Gospel of Thomas, where he says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.” Continue reading “Journey to the Heart: 12-Day Amazon Plant Medicine Retreat For Men at Mayantuyacu Dec. 28th to Jan. 9th”

Congressman McClintock Denies California is Burning

In an astonishing bit of pseudo-scientific sleight of hand, Congressman Tom McClintock effectively denies our beloved California is burning, and that it is going to keep burning for the foreseeable future.

How?

He does it by denying Humanity’s hand in shaping the climate. Ever since Alexander von Humboldt’s scientific explorations in the late 1700’s, it has been clear that our conduct shapes the health of our ecosystems. This is an absolute no-brainer.

Of course, it took climate science a while longer to understand the more subtle details, such as how the European Medieval warm period and subsequent Little Ice Age (which Congressman McClintock describes below) had clear human causes: the native peoples of the Americas conducted a continent-wide summer burning of forests before the arrival of Columbus, and all the released carbon actually warmed the entire planet! Thus, those vineyards in Greenland. The subsequent Little Ice Age was triggered because, with the extinction of 95% of the native population of the “New World” the burning ceased and global temperatures plummeted. Thus, ice-skating on the frozen Thames and famine stalking the land.

Here is how Congressman McClintock turns this careful scientific research upon its head:

Thank you for contacting me regarding global climate change.

I firmly believe that the United States should not hamstring its economy in an attempt to combat global warming.

The Earth’s climate is constantly changing and has been since the planet formed over four billion years ago. We know that during the Medieval warm period, from the 10th through the 13th centuries, wine grapes were grown in northern Britain, and Iceland and Greenland supported a thriving agricultural economy. We also know that during the Little Ice Age that followed, the Thames River froze solid every winter and advancing ice sheets destroyed many towns in Europe.

Simply adding more regulations based on suspect science will not change natural climate patterns. Such regulations will, however, devastate our economy and make America less competitive with nations like China and India, who refuse to strangle their economies. For these reasons, I will not support them.

Sincerely,

Tom

“Natural climate patterns”? “Suspect science”? Particularly disturbing is Tom’s total lack of familiarity with the famines that regularly devastated Europe — it’s as if we either happily drank wine or enjoyed frosty cones, oh, even though admittedly we did lose a couple of villages to advancing ice sheets… Congressman McClintock is oblivious, or lying, about the human cost of climate change in exchange for short-sighted economic growth.

Thomas Jefferson, who mistrusted merchants and their loyalty to money, believed that our country would be at its strongest and its liberty best kept by a population of farmers, men and women who raised their own food, lived in close contact with the Earth and its climate, and who heeded scientific discoveries to improve their happiness and prosperity. For Jefferson, happiness only arose from connection to the Earth.

He also said, “Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.”

I recommend to Congressman McClintock that he take a page from Jefferson’s book.

The truly perceptive man must know that where the human eye stops, and hearing terminates, there still vibrates an inconceivable and spectral world

There was a time when scientists weren’t ashamed to go on record contemplating the meaning of the cosmos as revealed through the scientific method, and one of the great practitioners of this genre was Loren Eiseley. While waiting to take my daughter to school this morning, I came across this passage in his book, The Unexpected Universe, published in 1964 — one year before I was born.

Here is the kind of mythopoeic perception that Eiseley was capable to bringing to phenomenon that are now treated as mere cold facts:

A few days ago I chanced to look into a rain pool on the walk outside my window, and the beauty and the strange rhythm of the extending and concentric wavelets entered my mind. I saw that I was looking symbolically upon the whole history of life upon our globe. There, in a wide, sweeping circle, ran the early primates from whom we are descended; here, as a later drop within the rim of the greater circle, emerged the first men. I was the mammoths pass in a long, slow, world-wide surge, but the little drop of man changed into a great hasty wave that swept them under.

There were sudden little ringlets, like the fauna of isolated islands, that appeared and disappeared with rapidity. Sometimes so slow were the drops that the pool was almost quiet, like the intense, straining silence of a quiescent geological period. Sometimes the rain, like the mutations in animal form, came so fast that the ripples broke, mixed, or kept their shapes with difficulty and did not spread far. Jungles, I read in my mystical water glass, microfaunas changing rapidly but with little spread.

Watch instead, I thought, for the great tides — it is they that contain that planet’s story. As the rain hastened or dripped slowly the pictures in the little pool were taken into my mind as though from the globe of a crystal-gazer. How often, if we learn to look, is a spider’s wheel a universe, or a swarm of summer midges a galaxy, or a canyon a backward glance into time. Beneath our feet is the scratched pebble that denotes an ice age, or above us the summer cloud that changes form in one afternoon as an animal might do in ten million years.

This is mythopoeia. All of this from gazing into a little pool pelted by drops of water! It’s as beautiful as Shakespeare (who Eiseley loved as a gift from his father), and captures the exquisite drama of the human adventure in ways that few scientists’s writing can now do.

Eiseley concludes, “The truly perceptive man must know that where the human eye stops, and hearing terminates, there still vibrates an inconceivable and spectral world of which we learn only through devised instruments. Through such instruments measuring atomic decay we have learned to probe the depths of time before our coming and to gauge temperatures long vanished.”

How akin Eisley’s “Where the human eye stops, and hearing terminates, there still vibrates an inconceivable and spectral world” is with W.B. Yeats’ “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

Remembering Persephone and the Eleusinian Mysteries

persephone page 13

The loss of the daughter to mother, the mother to the daughter, is the essential female tragedy. It was expressed in the religious mystery of Eleusis, which constituted the spiritual foundation of Greek life for two thousand years…

The separation of Demeter and Kore is an unwilling one; it is neither a question of the daughter’s rebellion against the mother, nor the mother’s rejection of the daughter… Each daughter, even in the millennia before Christ, must have longed for a mother whose love for her and whose power were so great as to undo rape and bring her back from death. And every mother must have longed for the power of Demeter, the efficacy of her anger, the reconciliation with her lost self.
Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born

One definition of “myth” might be: “A once sacred narrative which has lost its original context.” Like the flotsam and jetsam of a shipwreck on the high seas, we encounter fragments of myth, such as in Hesiod’s Theogony, drifting about detached from their original cultural setting and so read them as curious stories, quaint remnants, or illogical accounts of the cosmos.

What is lost in such fragments is the original wholeness of mythos, symbol, and ritual within which the myth had its transformative power. Continue reading “Remembering Persephone and the Eleusinian Mysteries”

Speaking Truth to Power

The president of Uruguay, Pepe Mujica, like a gadfly Socrates, lets the truth all hang out about the reality of economic progress in a recent meeting of world leaders in Rio:

For more info on this most remarkable of world leaders, who donates 90% of his income to the poor and chooses to live on his wife’s ramshackle farm instead of in the luxurious presidential palace in Montevideo, check out this BBC article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20243493

The Medieval Quest and Beheading Games with Green Men

Robert’s new book, The Battle of the Soul in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an exploration of the inner struggle of pilgrimage as it was enshrined in this most beautiful of medieval English romances, is now available!

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written in the late 1380’s by a cleric immersed both in Arthurian and Celtic mythology as well as the mystical traditions of his epoch, has fascinated scholars and translators from J.R.R. Tolkien to W.S Merwin. Robert’s book is the first to draw the connection between the courtly narrative of the poem and the “entry into unknowing” of the mystical tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius.

For more info, click here,

Encompassing the Amazon: Ayahuasca, Vegetalismo, and Cultural Survival

We are happy to share that Ayahuasca, Vegetalismo and Cultural Survival is now available for viewing below!

Generations of shamans, mad poets and intrepid researchers labored to give birth to this event on the endangered practices of entheogenic plant shamanism and the Amazonian ecosystem at City Lights, the literary mecca of San Francisco, with

Robert Tindall, author of The Jaguar that Roams the Mind

Lou Dematteis, author of Crude Reflections, which documents the environmental and cultural devastation left behind by Chevron in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Ralph Metzner, author of numerous works, including The Psychedelic Experience with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, as well as the more recent Sacred Vine of Spirits: Ayahuasca, and Sacred Mushroom of Visions: Teonanacatl

Dale Pendell, author of the trilogy Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path

We were fortunate to have this historic evening — City Lights was the publisher of The Yage Letters between Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs 25 years ago — captured on video. This video is the first in a series — please find the subsequent sequences on YouTube!