“None flies high without the opposing winds” ~ Yogi Bhajan [i]
The global phenomenon known as Interspirituality includes personal and direct encounters not only between followers of the many paths of the world’s myriad spiritual traditions but, in that, intersections among the paths themselves. Wayne Teasdale stressed these two forms of inevitable cross-over throughout his seminal work on Interspirituality, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions [ii]. Such encounter and intersection will inevitably become further amplified as the interspiritual phenomenon unfolds in the ongoing process of globalization.
In the last year we, Kurt Johnson and Karuna, found ourselves experiencing such an intersection as we encountered each other while teaching quite different “spiritual technologies.” What do a former Christian monk/scientist following the radically transcendent path of Advaita Vedanta, and a former Ford model/actress following the radically embodied path of Kundalini Yoga share in common? More than you might think. As Kurt has written in his recent book, The Coming Interspiritual Age, we can anticipate more and more cross–over between such paths, even the most unlikely.
We felt called to explore our respective paths together in the interspiritual context and began to experiment with teaching Advaita Vedanta and Kundalini Yoga side–by–side. We asked whether these paths and methods are, in fact, parallel, companion, complementary, reciprocal, or what?! These questions are even more important in light of the fact that many of our teaching colleagues actually advise their students that such paths should never be mixed. While this caution is readily understandable, our curiosity as to where this caution lies in the evolutionary process of which we are all a part propelled us forward in our experiment.
In our current multicultural world the map is criss–crossed with multiple paths, each tradition bringing its cosmology and spiritual technologies to the table. Our personal cross–traditional situation mirrors many others today as people interact across what Wayne Teasdale characterized as the still prevailing “religious cultures of fragmentation and isolation.”[iv] Interspirituality is part of our world’s inevitable emergence from this isolation and, in that experience, we have recognized some basic mapping points which characterize and inform the new landscape of intersecting spiritual paths. They are simple at face, but well worth exploring.
Interspiritual Intersections: Some Basic Observations
All religious traditions, their narratives and spiritual methods, are actually cosmologies. They act as maps—especially and ultimately, maps toward realization, awakening, enlightenment, salvation or other terms related to profound transformation. Within that confinement, the idea of a direct path is, of course, simply a metaphorical identification of a quick (or even guaranteed) route toward realization on the cosmological map of that particular tradition.
As Ken Wilber states in one of the principles of Integral Spirituality (Wilber, 2006), one result of that confinement was what he calls “The Myth of the Given”: the absolutely normal and innocent assumption of each tradition that its particular cosmological map (its narrative or method toward realization—which has also been seen to work!) is not only true but perhaps also better or best. Recognizing the universality of “The Myth of the Given” is one of the great “Aha’s” for persons entering the interspiritual landscape. It was the subject of Brother Wayne Teasdale’s article (published posthumously in Contemplative Journal) concerning Abhishiktananda’s primordial fears arising in his exploration of seemingly very different contemplative cosmologies—Christian and Vedic.
As Abhishiktananda recorded, compelling claims of a “direct” way are disconcerting to the deeply serious spiritual voyager. Indeed, in common parlance of most spiritual teachers, a claim to direct path amounts to it being the Express Train or straightest path to the mountaintop of enlightenment. This, coupled with the spiritual teacher or guru’s entreaty to the adept to completely surrender, or completely “believe”, heightens the drama.
Here enters a third consideration—that in all these emphases on “direct paths” and devotion to the guru’s words, one must also field the classical, even clichéd caution (most often attributed to the Buddha): that in all the bravado of spiritual pursuit, the map is the finger pointing at the moon (i.e. at realization) and not the moon itself. It is so easy for spiritual seekers to simply chase experience and never find the deeper realization—the unstruck melody of Kundalini Yoga or the silent song of Advaita.
The message of the spiritual classic Atma Darshan by Krishna Menon sought to remind all the traditions, and particularly their technologies “toward” realization or awakening, of the trap of casting the journey as one of any kind of attainment. Instead, Menon reminds that the natural state of everything is already awake and, only because of the veils obscuring this, is there is a utility to methods and practice.
Overall then, it is in this context that we can see clearly the landscape in which today—as a global interspiritual, universal, spirituality is arising— we have, side–by–side at this time, very different spiritual technologies offering themselves to the human transformative process.
Discovering the Natural Unity in Diverse “Direct Paths”
At first blush the highly transcendent teachings of Advaita (for example, of Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897–1981) [hereafter “NM”]) and the highly embodied teachings of the Kundalini Yoga of Sikh legend Yogi Bhajan (1929–2004) [hereafter “YB”] seem so radically different. In fact, we have experienced, first hand, teachers from both traditions suggesting they should not be mixed. For instance, at face, if one reads YB’s Man to Man [collected 2008] it could be said 100% of the pages refer to the body and some 70% to sexuality—all of it wrapped in the methodologies that lead, directly, to awakening. And yet the first thing you read in NM’s classic I Am That is “you are not the body” [p. 4]. Further, what could appear more different than the quiet ease of Advaitic practice—that characterized by one teacher as “for the spoiled grandchildren of Ramana Maharshi”—and the intense kinetic work of Kundalini Yoga that led one colleague to say of one such center “I wasn’t sure if they were yogis or athletes”? Our goal was to get beyond appearances and conduct some thoughtful, scholarly comparison of the writings of NM and YB. Surprisingly (or not!) we found a precise synchronicity in the contexts, cosmologies, and goals of these two teachers. Their words, transcribed from their direct speaking, match up clearly and poignantly, side by side, in often nearly identical phrases. Below are only a few examples taken from Yogi Bhajan’s Man to Man [YB,MM] and Nisargadatta Maharaj’s I Am That [NM,IAT].
|Yogi Bhajan||Nisargadatta Maharaj|
|On the awakened state:|
|Love is something in which there is no relationship…—no loss, no gain, no up, no down, no this, no that…nothing. [YB,MM 33]||In my world nothing ever goes wrong…[NM,IAT 17] nothing happens to me… [NM,IAT 33] In my world nothing happens.[NM,IAT 72]|
|You can meditate years and years and years. What will it give you? What is Divinity? What is God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. [YB,MM 199]||You discover there is nothing to discover….[NM,IAT 25]|
|It is the death of the self. It is the voice of the Self, the Voice of the One which we usually call God.[YB,MM 110]||You are the Self, here and now.[NM,IAT 19]|
|On the Absolute:|
|[It] is the absolute experience of silence because nothing is yours. [YB,MM 167]||It is a qualityless state.[NM,IAT 316]|
|On the spiritual search:|
|The greatest tragedy that mankind was given to understand or believe was that you have to find God. You can never, ever find God… You are God–– Part of God. And the whole of God is within you, behind you and within. Stop searching.[ YB,MM 228]
|Stop the search! [perennial aphorism in Advaita]|
|[It is] a good time and a bad time, good news and bad news.[YB,MM 221]||Whatever you say is both true and false.[NM,IAT 58 ]|
|On the body:|
|Every limb, …every movement of your limbs is attached to Divinity. [YB,MM 77]||You are not the body[NM,IAT 2,4]… But even to say you are not the body is not quite true. In a way you are all the bodies, ears and minds and much more. [NM,IAT 26]
What is wrong with the body?[NM,IAT 44] Energy comes first. For everything is a form of energy.[NM,IAT 35]
|Repeat after me, “We are playing a fair game.” Always remember, nothing succeeds unless it is fair. [YB,MM 163–164]||God…demands that balance should be restored. Karma is the law that works for righteousness; it is the healing hand of God.[NM,IAT 23]
Pick up your rubbish seems to be a universal law… And a just law too.[NM,IAT 116]
|On the personal journey:|
|…Nobody can initiate you. You have to initiate yourself.[YB,MM 232]||Your own self is your ultimate teacher. It is only your inner teacher that will walk with you to the goal.[NM,IAT 46]|
|On spiritual discipline:|
|…give them a discipline that will be true, that will work.[YB,MM 107]||What is wrong with striving? Striving itself is your real nature.[NM,IAT 64]
Even effort is a part of it. [NM,IAT 102]
When effort is needed, effort will appear. [NM,IAT 124]
|a specific landscape is required to live your values.[YB,MM 115]||All existence is particular.[NM,IAT 57]|
|On yogic practice:|
|Getting everything from within is what Kundalini Yoga is all about[YB,MM 179]…. Kundalini Yoga will dawn on you…all knowledge will come to you… Your teacher will speak in you. [as collected at 3HO.org]||Yoga is the work of the inner self.[NM,IAT 68]|
So, what do we have here? Of course, we have our own notions, but a way to perhaps explain it arose when we surveyed the claims about how “direct” each of these apparently very different paths actually is.
Radical Trascendant Practice and Radical Embodied Practice
Can Both be Natural State [“Raj”] Yogas
Commentators representing both Kundalini Yoga and Advaita have opined that these practices “work” because they represent not only “direct paths” but are also “raj” yogas. Now, raj (Rāja or king, royal, or highest) yoga has diverse definitions, and the historical literature is at odds about these without any academic consensus. However, what we mean is simply how it is defined in common parlance— “the yoga of the natural state.” It is what Krishna Menon meant in the Atma Darshan— that the natural state of everything is “awake” in the first place. Interestingly, we found no examples of commentators saying the same about both Advaita and Kundalini Yoga (likely reflecting the still prevalent “Myth of the Given” we previously defined). But, commentators were quite ready to make that attribution for the practice of their tradition.
If so, the radically transcendent path of Advaita (which, historically, obviously forgot about the body and simply left it behind) accesses the natural state of consciousness itself, while the radically embodied path of Kundalini Yoga accesses the natural state of how the bodily apparatus was designed in the first place, fully and naturally “awake.” Further, in the context of the current global interspiritual landscape—portrayed by Brother Wayne Teasdale as the providing diverse “wisdom resources” for the collective awakening of humanity [v], what could make more sense then having available in our global and multicultural age radically different forms of “direct path”? Certainly, it portrays that the “direct path” of the future is simply whatever works for any particular individual from across all the wisdom resources global spirituality now makes available.
Seeing this in evolutionary context also helps us understand how, in the case of the two paths discussed herein, historically Advaitins often accessed the consciousness piece of non–duality but neglected the body, while Kundalini adepts often mastered the diverse embodied practices but sometimes missed the non–dual consciousness piece. Yogi Bhajan recognized this himself, saying humorously “people will see that your tracks are very deep and your hooves are very fine, but your ‘upper story’ will be empty.” [MM, 218] Holism is certainly the order of today, illustrated in Yogi Bajan’s assertion that “None flies high without the opposing winds.”
There is also an historical depth and complementarity to the two traditions we have discussed here— an intertwining further reflecting the metaphor of the kind of genetic entanglement that goes on in nature. The ongoing crossing–over of spiritual paths across our now cosmopolitan and multicultural planet will have many unique cases, but with Advaita and Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga, intertwined roots are also clear. His own organization states it this way: “While Yoga practice and philosophy was generally considered a part of Hindu culture, [he] decided to teach Kundalini Yoga on the principle of Sikh Dharma, adhering to the three pillars of Patanjali’s traditional yoga system….” but relaxing the ascetic practices and opening it to “anyone who wanted to commit to the discipline.” It thus became a cross–cultural, interspiritual phenomenon. [vi]
Today’s “Cross–Over” Phenomenon in Interspirituality
In biological evolution, actual diversification— and the emergence of what are called “new adaptive zones” (that is, new situations that create entirely new demographics and thus new norms) often result simply from the “crossing–over” and “crossing–back” of the genetic material that contains the information. It is simply information exchange. What actually happens in nature is that evolution’s paths—biological lineages, generation to generation—simply intersect and, from there, interact, unite, and create new things. The same phenomenon is widely recognized in popular music with today’s “cross–over” music styles like reggie–rock, folk–rock, country–rock, blues–fusion, etc. In fact, in the last decades whole new popular music charts have been created to track the success of cross–over music styles. This is a result of our globe’s emerging multiculturalism. The same phenomenon is going on now in our planet’s interspiritual unfolding.
The authors of this article both represent this “crossing–over” phenomenon, as do many spiritual adepts and spiritual teachers in the West. Many, if not most, teachers in the West today— representing myriad traditions, and many in official capacities such as “lineage holders” etc., are not from the ethic group in which those traditions originated. We gathered some statistics concerning this from various dharma teacher websites and spiritual associations in the West, which we summarize below.
Dharma Teacher Websites
129 Teachers (Advaita, Zen, Dzogchen etc.);
Western ethnic origin: 96.2%
www.dharmaseed.org (Dharma Teachers)
311 Teachers, Western ethnic origin: 77.8%
www.dharma.org (Insight Meditation)
59 Teachers, Western ethnic origin: 91.5%
www.batgap.com (Buddha at the Gas Pump/ Interviews)
243 Teachers, Western ethnic origin: 97.9%
Spiritual Teacher Associations
The Heart of the Healer (THOTH) (South American Shamanic
Traditions) 28 Teachers, non-Native ethnic origin: 96.5% [vii]
Interestingly also, the American Zen Teachers Association
(www.americanzenteacher.org) notes it is not posting its rosters until it can revise criteria
Our conclusions are threefold. First, it is likely that it is these cross–over teachers who will initiate the further cross–over of paths, practices, and technologies as the Interspiritual Age continues to unfold. We see it already, for instance, in the foundational interspiritual literature having arisen from such modern cross–over personalities as Fathers Bede Griffiths, Raimon Pannikar, and Thomas Merton, and Brother Wayne Teasdale. The second conclusion is that this intersecting of the world’s religions, along with the intricacies of their spiritualities, is the direction of current evolution. There appears to be no doubt that, in our interspiritual, globalizing, and multicultural world, the trend is toward more and more crossing over of traditions and paths and—at least among cosmopolitan cultures— also the crossing–over and crossing–back of the ethnic identities in the leaderships of those traditions. Lastly, we must simply address the question of “why?”—what is the ultimate point of this intersecting of paths and ethnic crossing over among spiritual teachers and leaders? Echoing the quotation of Wayne Teasdale in endnote v, it simply reflects that transformation of individuals is what leads to transformation of the collective—in microcosm, the movement of contemplative voice to sacred activism.
What is there to say, in sum, about these emergent phenomena: this crossing–over of the world spiritual paths—even the most “direct paths”? As in all emergence, be it in biological evolution or in the growth of Consciousness, one sees the emergence of things often called “new.” Of course, the ingredients are not new, but the combinations and their summed manifestation serve that innovative purpose. In fact, Wayne Teasdale said the Interspiritual Age itself would emerge “because of a new set of historical circumstances”.[viii]
A number of years ago, the late Lucien Stryk (1924–2013)— the poet and major translator Zen texts—mentioned to Kurt Johnson that, for all the attention to the metaphors of “paths” in Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken”, no one seemed to comment on two of the most important lines in that poem—the last two lines of the second stanza, highlighted below:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same….
Perhaps an understanding of the meaning of those last phrases now clearly emerges, at least for spiritual journeyers, in the context of interspirituality and the complementarity of “direct paths”. For indeed, if we consider the efficacy of radically different paths, held by the generalities of awakened Spirit summarized from the two great teachers noted above, it is clear
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same….
Kurt and Karuna will be teaching together at One Spirit in New York City on January 10, 2015 (see Workshops and Events at www.onespiritinterfaith.org) and at Blue Spirit, Nosara, Costa Rica December 13-20, 2014 (see http://www.lightonkundalini.com/events/costa-rica-retreat-2014/#more-633)
Johnson, Kurt and David Robert Ord. The Coming Interspiritual Age. Vancouver CA:
Namaste Publishing, 2013
McEntee, Rory and Bucko, Adam. New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for
Contemplative Life in the 21st Century. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, forthcoming
Nisargadatta Maharaj. I Am That. Durham NC: The Acorn Press, 1982
Teasdale, Wayne. The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the
World’s Religions. Novato CA: New World Library, 1999
Wilber, Ken. Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and
Post-modern World. Boston MA: Shambhala, 2006.
Yogi Bhajan. Man to Man: A Journal of Discovery for the Conscious Man. Santa Cruz
NM: Kundalini Research Institute, 2008
[i] Man to Man p. 156
[ii] The Mystic Heart, for examples see Introduction and list of needed shifts in consciousness (p. 4f) , Chapter 1, p. 26f , Chapter 7, p. 163f, Chapter 9, p. 212f; and for reference to subsequent discussions of “new monasticism” and “new community” see McEntee and Bucko, in bibliography
[iv]The Mystic Heart, p. 12
[v] The Mystic Heart, p. 12: “We need to understand, to really grasp at an elemental level, that the definitive revolution is the spiritual awakening of humankind.”
[vi] (i) Khalsa, Guru Fatha Singh (2008). The Essential Gursikh Yogi: The Yoga and Yogis in the Past, Present and Future of Sikh Dharma. Toronto: Monkey Minds Press. p. 229f; (ii) Yogi Bhajan at 3HO.org.