The Direct Path Immanence and Transcendence: Social Activism in a World Saturated With Divinity, an Innerview with Andrew Harvey by Maria Todisco
Andrew Harvey blazes trails into the future while honoring the timeless spirituality of the past. Harvey’s new book, The Direct Path, is both a visionary integration of the world’s major spiritual traditions and a practical guidebook to the practices they have developed over the ages. Harvey calls us to take responsibility for our own spiritual evolution—without the mediation of spiritual authority figures—calling this the key to the next step in human evolution and world preservation. —Maria Todisco
Maria Todisco: What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing people in terms of awakening our spirituality in a culture that does not directly foster it?
Andrew Harvey: The most important thing is to take very seriously the testimony of the mystics of all the traditions. That testimony says very clearly that human nature is divine in its essence. That testimony traverses all religions and is the central inspiration of all religions.
The main difficulty that people have in believing this is twofold. On the one hand we are oppressed by a materialistic vision of human nature and society. On the other hand, we are oppressed by the patriarchal religions, all of which claim to exclusively represent, and mediate, the truth. Thus, in subtle and blaring ways, people are divorced from the essence of their own divine nature. The truth is that all of us, black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, are born with a living-inward connection with the Godhead. The purpose of being here is to embody that transcendent connection as deeply, as richly, and as actively as possible.
MT: That is a beautiful vision.
AH: It isn’t a vision. It is, actually, the reality. What happens at a certain stage of awakening is that this becomes as clear as daylight, as clear as the stones on the path where you are walking. It was clear to the Buddha, it was clear to the Christ, it was clear, in fact, to everyone who has awoken to the fact that the entire creation is saturated with and emanating the divine light. The divine is here—but we are not here with the divine.
What I’m trying to do in my book, The Direct Path, is to condense the most accurate information from the world’s spiritual traditions in such a clear way that everybody of good will can get it. The information is explicit, there can be no doubt about the conclusion: EVERYTHING that divides one human being from another or from Nature must now be revealed as the convenient social, cultural or religious fiction it is. EVERYTHING that in any way disempowers or depresses the divine power and consciousness innate in every human being must be unmasked as a lie of power. EVERYTHING that provides authentic help and truth and wisdom from whatever area of human experience or pursuit must be embraced and fused with every other source of awareness and empowerment to provide the human race in this, its hour of danger and need, with the resources of an integral wisdom, a wisdom that unites the highest mystical understanding of the transcendent with the highest scientific, political, economic, technological, social and psychological knowledge of how to shape the immanent to mirror the ideals of equality, justice, and compassion on every level.
What does this mean in practice? It means that the essential truth of the innate divinity of all human beings, beyond all dogma and religious difference, must become the ground of human knowledge and practice. It means that the valuable insights and transformative practices of all the mystical traditions must be preserved outside the systems that still try to mediate or control them. It means that a marriage must take place between mystical and scientific knowledge. It means that the modern western achievements of psychology, democracy, and individual freedom must be fused with the most profound and transformative work of the Tibetan, Hindu, Kabbalistic and Christian mystics, and all of the shamanic truths preserved, against so many odds, by the native peoples.
MT: Why have the various traditions been so segmented and patriarchal? Why have they weeded out the element of immanence, i.e. the acceptance of this body and this world as sacred?
AH: The reason is twofold. About twenty five hundred years ago, the world religious imagination lost the feminine half of the Godhead. We lost the sense of the feminine as sacred, the sense of Motherhood of God. As a consequence, we lost the sense of this body and our experience in this world as being saturated with divinity. In losing that and choosing a transcendent version (i.e. having a disembodied, not-of-this-world connection with divinity), the whole of our human experience has become subtly devalued.
Another reason is that we simply do not have, in our culture, the accurate information. All of the mystical traditions, in the course of their evolution, have created astonishingly powerful practices. The reason that this information has been kept secret from the great majority of humanity is that information is power. When the mystical traditions became patriarchal, they hoarded the information because they wanted to use that information for power and for control—not for the liberation of all humanity. This has been a disaster.
In every human activity there is a fundamental choice between love and power, between the service and liberation of all beings, and power over all beings in the name of one’s own self. This temptation, this choice, permeates all of human activity, even the mystical traditions at their highest levels.
Humanity has absolutely no hope of surviving unless it chooses the path of the direct communion with God—beyond religion, beyond dogma, beyond gurus, beyond authorities. If we go on adoring our projections and giving away our power, if we go on believing that other people will do the inner work for us and getting gurus or priests to mediate between us and our own divine nature, then this sectarianism will continue. It is a terrible war between different versions of a nameless and formless truth. The suffering it creates is lethal and it has to end.
MT: In The Direct Path, you’ve woven together spiritual practices from the great mystical traditions and put them out in a “map.” How do you suggest people use it?
AH: I suggest that people think of themselves as their own laboratory, and the transformation that they’re going through as something that they are, under God, in charge of. Think of yourself as an alchemist of your own bliss. Find out what your sacred imagination is most stimulated by. Some people find imageless meditation the easiest way to get to their divine center. Others have great powers of visualization and so, through an image of the Godhead such as Jesus or the Buddha, they can find the connection to their own inner divinity. Yet others have a temperamental desire for the deepest silence through a kind of withdrawal which they need to cultivate. Other people find their connection with divinity in active, concentrated, focused, meditative service of others.
MT: You are emphatic about the necessity of activism. Talk about that.
AH: The most important thing for everyone to realize now is the immense danger that our world is in. Look at our predicament: the terrible danger of ecological catastrophe that threatens not only us but the whole of nature; the fact that two billion people live on less than two dollars a day; the fact that our culture cultivates oppression and economic disparity. We need to face these facts, and then allow the facing of the potential disasters around us to spur us to plunge into the inmost divine depths of ourselves. We can then commit the energy, the love, the wisdom, and the insight that we find there to work actively in the world for the transformation of the world.
Historically, the human race has had two jaundiced views of action; they’re both fundamentally wrong. The Eastern view of action is that, at a certain level of spiritual awakening, action in the world is no longer necessary. In this view, the world is conceived as an illusion, as samsara, a dream created by the ego. When the ego is transcended, all need for action in the world is also transcended. Even somebody as great as Ramakrishna fell into this profound fallacy which leaves, of course, the horrors and injustices of the world undealt with. Hence we have, in the East, terrible cruelty to women, appalling misogyny and homophobia, the dreadful stupidity of the caste system, the inequalities of the guru system. These have flourished virtually unchallenged alongside the spiritual illumination of the culture.
And in our culture, the Western fallacy about action is that action doesn’t need to be inspired by the deepest divine awareness—truth, love and wisdom. Action itself will solve things. We’ll fix it through science, knowledge, and reason.
But that isn’t enough because the kind of action that can really transform our world must be what I call ‘mystical action.’ For action to be effective, it must be baptized by mystical awareness, and spring from a profound understanding of interdependence, on all levels—interde-pendence with nature, with each other, and with the whole of creation. And when that mystical knowledge is born in beings, from it a much wiser, more all-encompassing, braver and more loving action is born. It enables the divine energy to use us as transparent vehicles to enter the world. This is the future.
What we then find is what Jesus came to teach, and what Aurobindo certainly was teaching—a mystical activism that expresses itself in the most passionate, skillful action for justice and transforma-tion in all the levels of society, in all the arenas of the world. This, in fact, is the equivalent, in mystical terms, of the creation of the atomic bomb because what this vision brings together is what has traditionally been kept apart—the sacred and the profane, heaven and earth, prayer and action, mysticism and politics. This vision, which marries the masculine and the feminine sides of the brain, brings together the Jesus, the Einstein, and the Karl Marx in us. It brings together the different faculties for progress within us, divine and human.
What this makes accessible to the human race is a wholly new level of energy, of wisdom, and of awakened, just action. This is the clue to the transformation of the planet. In fact, I believe that we, as a species, have come to the moment where we must either choose this new vision or die out.
Teilhard de Chardin says humanity has been given the choice between suicide and adoration. I would amend that to say that humanity has been given the choice between suicide and action born out of adoration. We are called to action to save the forests, to preserve the dignity of the poor, to transform the economic systems that govern the world so that, instead of reflecting human greed, they reflect human compassion. To do all of that will demand a huge effort from all of us. The effort will meet many obstacles, will necessitate many sacrifices, will be dogged by darkness and suffering. We will only be able to make that effort if we allow ourselves to be inspired by the divine so that we can go through what is necessary to transform ourselves, then to transform our world.
MT: This means to begin to think, become, and act from the perspective of the world rather than from the perspective of the individual.
AH: Exactly. It is a tremendous shift, but we have enduring models of it in the great mystics and in many people around us. Such examples are signs that it’s possible. You have to wear down, or burn down, the veils between you and others. The way to do that is through spiritual practice. Each time you pray sincerely, each time you sit down to meditate with true earnestness, each time you visualize yourself as another being and another being as yourself with true sincerity, a part of that veil is worn away until one day, through the agency of the divine, you will see what every mystic sees. That revelation will then baptize you slowly into this completely new universe. Out of that will be born a global vision which has no prejudices against gays or blacks, no racism or sexism, only what we, as a human race together, inspired by the divine, could create here.
There is no final enlightenment on this path, only endless evolution. This means losing our fantasies, losing our illusions, not only about the material philosophies but also about mystical philosophies.
I’m convinced that there are many people out there who really want to take this path now. It’s very inspiring to me. For the last fifteen years I have been in a profound spiritual depression about the limitations of what’s going on. Now, for reasons I can’t completely explain, I am absolutely convinced that there has been a significant turning in the core of the consciousness of humanity. The extent of this problem is becoming very clear and with that the necessity of a wholly new kind of spiritual activism. And I think many, many people are waking up to this simultaneously. I am convinced that it is the purpose of the divine.
Even the U.S. Government has now officially recognized global warming. Five years ago when I was talking about the danger to the environment I was called a doom prophet and an apocalyptic. Now what I was saying seems tame compared to the facts that even the most conservative scientists pronounce.
The Goddess of Apocalypse is appearing to us with two mirrors. In the dark mirror of her left hand, she is showing us exactly what will happen if we continue on our dark road of greed and pride. In the right hand she carries a mirror of brilliant golden light in which we can see our divinely inspired faces and the world transfigured by divine love and divine action. Which are we going to choose? We have been brought to the moment where we do have the power to annihilate the whole of nature if we go on pursuing greed and pride, or to begin a journey empowered by the energy of divine love so as to create the world in the golden mirror. This is a thrilling time and I am thrilled to be alive, participating in it. But I know that everything depends on our choice and on that choice being made very, very soon. We do not have much time.
MT: In The Direct Path, you break down the taboo of talking about our own personal and mortal death.
AH: There’s a great mystery behind death which you can only find if you acknowledge that you are dying. If you run from the fact that you are dying you will run into all kinds of false solutions, all kinds of fantasies to try and drug your mind against the fear of death. But if you embrace the fact that you are dying, you will discover in the end what Rumi discovered. He found, if you practice and if you love God deeply enough, that “all the roses are blooming in my skull.”
If you were not dying, if you were simply deathless and eternal, you would only be participating in one aspect of the Godhead; the transcendent aspect. But because you are both eternal in your soul and dying in your body, you participate in the full nature of the Godhead which is both transcendent and immanent. So death is not a disaster. Death is, in fact, the cup from which we drink the wine of eternal knowledge and ecstasy. And only by embracing death can we discover that each moment is sacred and unfolding in a divine, timeless bliss. Only through the embrace of death can you discover eternity. That’s the paradox at the heart of the search that every mystic discovers. But you also stumble across this deeper mystery, which is that death is the condition of the ecstasy that you experience here. If we were living forever, the preciousness of all of our relationships, the divinity of my love for my cat Purrball and my love for my husband wouldn’t be so acute and poignant and ravishing and important.
Remember what Rumi said, “Creation, destruction, I am dancing for them both.” And the “I am dancing for them both” is the soul that knows itself present as much in death as it is in life. What we call life and what we call death are only two aspects of one eternal reality, the smile of Shiva, and that is something that you come to know. And it frees you from fear.
MT: So, being freed from the fear of death also frees you from the fear of life, and the fear of risking what it takes to make a difference in the world.
AH: That’s exactly right. Of course it’s a progressive thing. You don’t free yourself from the fear of death immediately, but as you come to know the infinite love of God, and as you come to know that your soul is immortal, and as you come to taste the truth of what all the mystics have told us about eternal divine consciousness being at the core of everyone, then you start to grow a very strange and wonderful fearlessness. You can play in the great game of the Father/Mother for the transformation of the world fearlessly, because you know what Arjuna knows in the Gita; that he is eternal. You know that you cannot be destroyed, that whatever is sent against you is only sent against your physical or emotional being, not against your soul. It can’t destroy your soul because the soul is indestructible. And that gives you an astonishing capacity to get out there, to tell the truth, to try and become (as far as you can be) the truth, and to go on pressing, pressing, pressing against the forces of injustice and ignorance. In fact, it’s the source of that astounding courage that you see in Gandhi, in Martin Luther King, in the Dalai Lama. It’s the source of that sweet, deep certainty that gives beings like them, who guide us forward, the kind of courage that they needed, and that we need, to really embrace the difficulties ahead. It lets us know that we will be given the strengths we need, that whatever happens to us, it will be, finally, in the ultimate sense, all right because we are being held in the arms of the living God.
Andrew Harvey is an author and mystic born in India and currently living in the American Southwest. He will be coming to Oregon to teach later this year at Oregon House (October 6-8) and Breitenbush Hot Springs (October 13-15). His latest book, “The Direct Path,” was released in March, 2000.
Maria A. Todisco, Ph.D. is an educator, transpersonal psychologist and freelance writer.