Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ - An Interview with Andrew Harvey by Peter Moore
“What has been passing for Christianity during these last nineteen centuries is merely a beginning, full of weaknesses and mistakes and not a full-grown Christianity springing from the spirit of Jesus.” —Albert Schweitzer
(The following is an interview between Peter Moore, editor of Alternatives, and Andrew Harvey, author and teacher. His new book, Son of Man, presents a poetic and powerful re-assessment of the historical and symbolic Christ. In it, Jesus emerges as a cross between an enlightened master and a flaming revolutionary.)
I’ve followed your career as you pursued spirituality in its various manifestations. What has led you to the Son of Man?
AH: I was born in India to a Christian family. In that environment, I soon realized that all the different paths lead to the same place. From that beginning, I was very drawn to the East—Tibetan Buddhism, which I wrote about in A Journey in Ladakh. And then to pursuit of the Hindu Bhakti path with Mother Meera, thence to Sufism and the practice of the sacred heart with Rumi. But in all of that, I remained very connected to Christ to keep myself together.
It has been only within the last years that I got so sick of the narcissism of the New Age—the self absorption, the lack of meaningful social or political or environmental concern. I also got deeply disillusioned—not with Hindu or Buddhist philosophy, but with the actual practice—both among the so-called practitioners and with the whole master/disciple system. It is all to do with power.
It wasn’t till I came back to the Christ path that I found a path both profoundly mystical and unerringly activist. It is totally concentrated on the transformation of this “real world” which is what we need.
Speak to me of mystical activism.
AH: What’s so important about the Christ that I discovered is that Jesus did not want to create a separate religion. Jesus did not believe that he was the unique son of God but was, rather, a very, very evolved mystic, who saw the possibilities for the total transformation of our world through an explosion of love consciousness. He was prepared not only to see it, like so many of our modern sages who talk about it, but actually to live it out in a most unnerving radical revolutionary challenging way. He challenged all the social lunacies of his and any other time, and was crucified for it—crucified by the religious and political establishment that his vision threatened.
The real vision of love in action is so radical, so extreme and so fierce because of what it reveals—that all relationships of power, whether sexual, emotional, physical or religious, deeply deform the essential relationship of each human being to God and each human being to every other human and sentient being.
Jesus recognized that the life of abandoned service and love and justice had to be lived on this earth, to transform this earth to what it is always meant to be—the living mirror of God’s love and God’s justice. This is a totally revolutionary vision.
It’s revolutionary because it brings together what has traditionally been kept apart—society and holiness, heaven and earth, politics and the highest, most intense love consciousness. It attempts to fuse all of these things into one overwhelming fire of transfiguration that is destined to transform the whole world and elevate the whole of humanity. It will do so by revealing to the entire humanity its own God nature, its own divine nature.
What is this “narcissism of the New Age” that you mentioned?
AH: To be fair, I think there are good things about the New Age. There is a certain spiritual curiosity at least which, in a totally materialistic age, is something. But there is no true mystical passion. There’s a dreadful lack of discrimination.
The New Age does not deal in really transformative paths. To be a successful New Age guru, what you do first of all is sell “mysticism lite”—that’s L-I-T-E. Without suffering, without the need for ego to go through a death. All you have to do to be a successful New Age guru is to give people a vague sense that, just as they are, they are divine and wonderful and glorious. They don’t need to do anything. That is a total travesty of the authentic spiritual path. It trivializes it. It’s craziness to imagine that the highest spiritual achievements will immediately be accessible to you just because you want them to be. Such achievements require, as they have always required, the authentically mystical systems, that is, an immense amount of passionate, rigorous, sustained, and at times very painful work.
Do you feel therefore that the audience of interested people for Son of Man is necessarily small?
AH: No, I don’t. I actually think it’s large because there are many Christians deeply disappointed by what they have been sold by the churches—yet they still love the Christ. They want to connect with the Christ more than ever because they are awake to the horror of what is happening in this world. There are a great many people who are fed up with the mysticism-lite that is offered by the New Age. And there are refugees from the ‘saint gurus,’ if you will—people who have been disillusioned by the Eastern path. I think the combination of these three provides an enormous audience.
You believe people are eager for a spirituality far more rigorous?
AH: I think they are because, once you have tried mysticism-lite for awhile, you realize it just doesn’t do it. It doesn’t save you from your darkest self. It doesn’t really reveal the divine essence of things. It doesn’t make you a fundamentally transformed and better human being, more in connection with the love that sustains the universe—it just doesn’t.
Your demons remain your demons?
AH: And your shadow remains your shadow. Your boredom with yourself remains your boredom with yourself. There are a great many people who are sick of a spirituality that has no focus on justice and no focus on transformation of really appalling conditions.
I think what is needed is to combine prayer and meditation with political action, with a sustained critique of the power structures—exactly as Jesus did. That is why Jesus is such a thrilling example. He prayed, he meditated and saw light. Jesus was profoundly awake to the divine essence of things. But he didn’t sit about joining hands, he went out there and healed people. He fought against oppressive structures, didn’t he. So I think he found the combination.
Imagine what prayer and political action would do together. Imagine what deep meditation and deep prayer and really concerned critical power-dissolving critiques would do together.
If you only have the inner realization— that you are one with the Godhead and that everybody else and nature is also one—if you have that realization without realizing that there is a responsibility to put what you discover inside into practice in the actual relationships of power outside, then you only have one half of a mystical truth. The other half is that truth has to be made actual, it must be enacted. And that is dangerous because, when you do that, you will meet all the corporations, all the power corruptions that are trying to keep people enslaved.
The politicians and the corporations don’t mind all sorts of New Agers joining hands over the internet. What they do mind is a sustained and vibrant critique of what they are up to.
The problem is that people have such a demeaning vision of what God is. God is not just there to be tapped into. God is there to be enacted and co-created with. We are not here to be slaves and servants of some omnipotent power, we’re here as divine children of that power, gifted immensely. With extraordinary powers to enact love and justice in the world in the name of that power, to transform existing conditions. So that the poor do not live an abominable life, animals are not tortured in cosmetic experiments, forests are not burned and nature is not destroyed for the profit of the few.
That’s a very compelling vision.
AH: I think it’s Jesus’ great contribution to the mystical life of the world. All of the other great mystical liberators have essentially been beings who revealed the divine nature of reality but not stressed the necessity of bringing that divine nature into actual living conditions and justice. Think of the Buddha. The Buddha taught a great deal about liberating oneself from illusion. But he didn’t teach about transforming the illusion, so that it would become reality. Yet such a transformation constitutes Jesus’ tremendous challenge and enterprise. That is what makes him so scary. Because he didn’t just say float off, float out, leave, abandon, ‘this is all illusion.’ He said, this is terribly real, it demands everything. If you really love you will give absolutely all, you are to make sure that nobody starves again. It’s a passionate plea to make love real, which is what everybody is terrified of doing.
How does that translate to love between the sexes?
AH: How many sexes do we want to bring into this discussion? All nine biological sexes? Of course it means that. I think one of the things I have tried to point out in the Son of Man is that conventional Christianity’s dismissal of the body is a total disaster. Body-hatred is a total disaster because it conspires with the death of nature. And the hatred of the external world and an etheralization of Jesus’ very concrete, very earthy fleshy message. Jesus’ message is ‘take, eat, this is my body; drink, this is my blood.’ This is not about floating off into some heavenly other world, it’s about realizing the sacred passion of life here. And important aspects of that are in consecrated sexuality and Tantric sexuality.
Do you write about it in your book?
AH: Yes, I do. It is in the chapter on the divine Mother. I interpret the marriage of Cana as the miracle of Jesus turning the water of banal sexuality into the wine of consecrated Tantric sexuality. And I think the true meaning of marriage, whither heterosexual or homosexual, is that it should become the site of the sexual Tantric encounter. The hallowed consecrated place in which two beings can experience the ecstasy of creation and be infused by the Holy Spirit. And be initiated therefore in the ground of life, beyond the reach of the priests and the churches and dogmas, into the glory of God. This is not original, it has been known in Hinduism and Buddhism, and it’s most unlikely that a world savior of Jesus’ awareness would not have known about it.
What happened institutionally that disappeared these teachings?
AH: Well you can’t run an institution with celibate monks and priests and allow for the power of women or the consecrated power of sexuality, can you? Because, if the institutional ambition is to mediate everything, what will happen if people are just initiated in their bedrooms or in the basic fact of loving each other? Priests don’t have any power over that. So they had to convince people they were worms and that they needed priests to mediate between them and some impossibly grand Son of God. It is all about power. Keeping people depressed, enslaved, hating their bodies, their sensu-ality, in love with some very dampened down vision of spirit which is placed outside their possibility and reach. It has worked incredibly well for the churches.
It prevents the two great recognitions that Jesus came to give the world. The first is that we are all children of the Divine, that the Divine is at the core of us, that we can all be Divine if we give, love, suffer and open ourselves enough—and of course that “enough” is vast. It is not easy, it costs everything. The second realization is that body and spirit are not separate. They are one in the blazing of Divine presence. Just as heaven and earth are not separate. If you keep saying heaven is elsewhere, then earth will go on being this inferno of injustice. And people will go on justifying injustice. The church will go on justifying power and not allowing these great energies that could transform everything to come out. It’s terrifying.
How could Jesus possibly be behind all the glory, pomp and power of all of the churches who accrue titles and land, power and gold, in his name? This man who lived as a pauper and who wanted radical egalitarianism?
How much despair is in your life?
AH: I have a great deal of grief and sadness about what is being done to the earth. I have a great deal of sad rage at how spirituality is being distorted. I have real fear for the planet—and I know it’s coming. I know that we are going to go through unbelievably terrible times. But despair? Despair is not something I allow myself, because I don’t have time to despair. I want to work, to try and help as far as I can, as long as I can.
To really take on the challenge of the Christ….?
AH: You have to do what St. Paul says: ‘love endureth all things and hopeth all things.’ That hope is not a silly hope, nor is it an optimistic hope. It is a hope rooted in the innate divinity of every human being, in the innate glory of the inner Christ in every human being.
Is revitalization a possibility?
AH: Oh yes, my book is absolutely dedicated to that. I think that it’s not just a possibility, it’s the last chance. Our greed, our arrogance and our confusion are taking us to the place where we either destroy ourselves, taking much of our natural world with us, or we go through a very difficult and costly transformation which will result in an evolutionary leap for humanity. I’m hoping the latter is possible. I don’t know if it is going to happen. I think that all the signs are not favorable. I think that there are very few people who really see how dangerous things are and how much it will cost to change them. But there are some and the numbers will grow as the catastrophe deepens. Then it will depend upon how passionate and sincere we really are in the pursuit of transformative practices in every aspect of life. The future is either going to be absolutely terrifying, or absolutely terrifying—and transforming. These are the two choices.
So be prepared to be terrified?
AH: Well don’t you think? Thousands of species are disappearing every month, billions of people are living below the poverty line worldwide. There is every sign that the incredible information about the destruction of the environment is still not being taken even remotely seriously by any of the corporations or the governments that are supposedly there to help us preserve ourselves. The world is living in a complete coma of denial about what is actually going on.
I’m promulgating two things—daring to wake up out of this massive coma, and daring to go on the dangerous journey of authentic transformation. Both inevitably involve fear, panic, insecurity—but you will be guided and helped by the cosmic Christ, by the power of love in the universe. Divine grace will shelter and sustain you, if you can stand it. And you will be immensely strengthened if you open up to it. I know this because I am living it. I have been through tremendous suffering and difficulty and I have been protected. I cling on by my fingernails.
(Son of Man . . . )
Describe the dark night of the soul.
AH: I think the dark night is simply about realizing where we are. Your heart must open—your real heart, the sacred heart with its vast power of identification with all beings. When that experience becomes real to you, then the forests are being butchered inside you, the whales are dying inside you, the poor are starving inside you, the old women are being brutalized on the streets by soldiers inside you, the dogs are being vivisected alive inside you, nature is being tortured to death inside you. The entire horror of what we are doing in the name of power becomes horribly vibrant inside you. And there is a tremendous exposure to agony.
Simultansously of course, there is a tremendous exposure to the glory of what could be possible if love were made real. The glory of the Divine trying to be born in institutions, in art, in the love between human beings, in the potential of cooperation between races, in the potential for a transformed technology. You see both at the same time and both are deranging.
The agony is deranging because, when you finally tap into what is going on, part of you faints away. And the glory is deranging because, when you tap into what is possible, another part of you faints away. You see what I am saying? Both deeply shatter any form of conventional thought. And that begins to describe the experience of the Christ heart.
But when you say deranging, that is another word for madness. AH: No. Well yes it is. But that is what I think St. Paul means, by ‘the wisdom of the cross being the foolishness of the wise.’ Once you begin to see what is really entailed on the Christ path—the total donation of yourself as a passionate living sacrifice of love—to love—for love—when you begin to see what is involved in that, then of course that’s deranging. And it seems like madness . . . it is madness, it’s madness to convention.
Jesus says in the gospel of Thomas ‘and you see that you will be troubled and then you will be astounded and rule over the all.’ But the ‘troubling’ and the ‘astounding’ go together. You have to allow yourself to be troubled by the horror and agony, the despair and the desolation, and then astounded by the possibility of living with the divine empowerment. Then slowly, slowly—this is not immediate, this is not a New Age intensive—you become aware of the powers that are given you by God’s grace, in God’s name, and they are astonishing! But you have to be prepared to go through a great deal. Love is like that, isn’t it? That’s exactly what the Christ is saying to us, go crazy and stay really sane. Don’t close down, don’t close the heart.
Is this your essential message as a teacher? At Oregon House, will you go beyond lecture to practice?
AH: Oh god yes. I rave and I talk but I do anything, everything to open peoples’ hearts. I work with the ancient sacred practices. I teach visualization so that people can enter into their own deep privacy. I help people come to profound contact with their own sacred hearts.
It’s not good enough simply to rave at people to give them these thoughts. People must be given ways of connecting and working with the heart. People must grow strong enough to stand what the heart will reveal to them. That’s what my workshops are about. They are about getting necessary information, opening up perspectives, but also helping people to get to some crucial, life transforming practices. Talk is fine, but the practices are really everything. You’ve got to have a real mystical practice, a real practice of meditation and of prayer. And then you must put your practice into practice, by serving in every element of your life.
What about Jesus’ radical egalitarianism?
AH: Jesus is such an extraordinary figure because again, and again, both in the Canonical Gospels and certainly in the Gnostic Gospels, he said ‘look, you can go further than me, you can do more than I can. You think that these things are incredible—they seem incredible to you because you haven’t come into your inner divinity. When you come into your inner divinity, this will be your normal experience. This energy will be your energy, this passion will be your passion, this power will be your power.’ Which makes ludicrous the Christian church’s erection of him into this unique Son of God. He came to God us all, to reveal how we could all be Godded in that way, if we are prepared to give enough. It’s not easy, obviously. It takes enormous faith and passion and sacrifice, as he showed.
The last thing he did was to wash the feet of his disciples in one final desperate attempt to get them free of their wretched projections. And it didn’t work. Some of the commentators say that by doing so, he enacted the role of the female servant. He not only washed the disciples’ feet, thus deconstructing the master/disciple thing, he also took on the despised feminine role. What more can you do to try and wake people up?
I noticed that you made the noun God into a verb—he “Godded” us.
AH: God is not unreachable, God is love and God is in love. In every conceivable sense of that phrase, that’s what we are here to do. We are here to God ourselves and God each other by loving, deeply, passionately, wisely and relentlessly. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. ‘I come to give life more abundantly,’ Christ said. ‘I am the vine and you are the bunches of the vine,’ he said. My god, this is wild, rich, passionate abundance! Nothing could be more completely and gloriously and transcendently sensual. ‘This is my body, this is my blood. Eat and drink of it.’ It’s the highest possible adoration of life. Life as love, life as the transmission of love, life as the great opportunity to drink the eternal wine of love in the body.
Andrew Harvey, author of numerous books on spirituality.