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.