MUHAMMAD ALI & MALCOLM X: America’s Islamic Heart

Muhammad Ali & Malcol X - (Bingham) 001O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your Own sake, grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.  — Rābiʿah al-Baṣrī

In Miami, February 1964, Cassius Clay was preparing to face Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. For all his braggadocio, Cassius Marcellus Clay was scared. Liston was an overwhelming favorite, the most punishing puncher in boxing history, a devastating foe. Oddsmakers had trouble finding takers for bets against Liston. Malcolm X believed in Clay totally and sincerely, and communicated that faith to the underdog. “This fight is the truth . . . Do you think Allah has brought about all this intending for you to leave the ring as anything but the Champion?”

Malcolm X was undergoing his own crisis of faith. Since being named the assistant of the Detroit Temple No. 1 in 1953, Malcolm X had become the Nation of Islam’s public face. He had faithfully promoted the teachings and cause of Elijah Muhammad in the face of his own increasing doubts for several years. By 1964, before the fight, he had already been suspended by Elijah Muhammad for his outspoken behavior and support of civil rights activism. The Nation of Islam also condemned boxing and disapproved of Malcolm’s support of Cassius Clay.

Cassius had first been exposed to Elijah Muhammad’s teaching in Chicago during a Golden Gloves tournament in 1958. He met Malcolm X in Detroit in 1962. Malcolm recalled, “Some contagious quality about him made him one of the very few people I ever invited into my home.” Clay went out of his way to attend as many of Malcolm’s teachings as possible. Later, they would spend hours discussing the Koran according to Ali’s close friend, Howard Bingham, who took the remarkable photo of Malcolm and Ali at the top of the page.

Before the Liston fight, J. Edgar Hoover leaked the Nation of Islam-Cassius Clay connection. Malcolm’s presence in the Clay training center in Miami sparked outrage from sports writers and the fight promoters who promptly cancelled the bout. “My religion’s more important to me than any fight,” Clay responded, and he refused to denounce Islam. Malcolm X left for New York and didn’t return until fight night when he was at ringside.

In January 1946, Malcolm Little was arrested in Boston trying to retrieve a stolen watch he had left for repair. By February, he was serving time in one of the most infamous and filthiest prisons in the world, Boston’s Charleston. Within a month he began a self study program in the prison library. In 1948, his brother Philbert wrote him that the entire Little family had converted to Islam, and Malcolm followed. His first falling out with the Nation of Islam came from disapproval of a campaign he led in prison for the rights of Muslim inmates. The NOI was not about rights campaigns.

Merton & Sufism 001Malcolm Little’s prison progression from shifty thief to a disciplined, serious student of Islam shows the powerful pressure ideas exert upon a mind within the steel and concrete reality of prison walls. Illuminate a mind and change a life. That message, which manifested in Malcolm’s life, is pronounced in present-day programs such as Pure Vision Foundation’s Thomas Merton Prison Project. By providing free spiritual books to inmates across a wide range of faiths, the project provides a source of inspiration to inmates and allows society to help people create change from within, a change which can only benefit the whole of humanity.

These are the ideals that Malcolm LIttle — who became Malcom X — lived for and that contemplatives such as Thomas Merton realized. Merton called Shaikh Ahmad al’Alawi, pictured on the cover of Merton & Sufism, “one of the greatest religious figures of this century, a perfect example of the Sufi tradition in all its fullness and energy.”

Two of society’s great evils forged Muhammad Ali from Cassius Clay. Racism came first then Vietnam. In August 1955, when Clay was thirteen, Emmett Till a fourteen-year-old from Chicago was visiting his mother’s family in Mississippi. Till made the dreadful mistake of flirting with a white sales lady. Three days later, her husband and his friends dragged Emmett from his uncle’s shack and took him to a bridge over the Tallahatchee River. There they beat him with an iron pipe, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head before tying a 75-pound cotton gin to his neck with barbed wire and throwing him in the river. The all-white jury deliberated for little over an hour before finding the killers innocent. “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop it wouldn’t have taken that long,” one juror quipped.

Down to the Crossroads 001Nor was it possible for black people to vote in the south. In 1966, James Meredith set out to walk alone from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi to begin a voter registration campaign. On the second day of his walk, he was shot point blank with a shotgun by a man who strolled away easily as the police watched. As usual, the first man at Meredith’s hospital bedside was Dick Gregory who vowed to continue the walk alone if need be. Rather, the March Against Fear became a cause célèbre attracting blacks and whites, rousing Martin Luther King and blazing Stokely Carmichael to national prominence.

Walking has always proved a powerful motivator for change both in real life and in fiction. In 1930 Mohandas Gandhi led a 24-day march to the sea to protest the British government’s monopoly on the production of salt. In the novel, PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation, inequalities and violence are confronted by women from around the world, who march toward Jerusalem demanding the creation of a world peace capital.

I might even march on foot through Venezuela, Israel, and the Sudan, all those countries, and tell people to stop fighting and agree on a peace that’s fair to everyone. Some people say that might be dangerous, but you have to take risks in life.  — Muhammad Ali

In 1967, in the face of a roaring tiger, with nothing but faith in his God and a vision of righteousness as defense, Muhammad Ali faced the American government and stated, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” At that moment, Muhammad Ali single-handedly began the great turnaround in public opinion on the Vietnam imbroglio — a sorry bit of history that has its lurid birth in the days after World War II when Great Britain was determined to hold on to India at any cost, which meant supporting France’s colonial claim on Vietnam.

At the time, Truman backed the British. French soldiers in Vietnam who surrendered to the Japanese at the beginning of the war, now stood alongside their captors and aimed their collective weapons at the Vietnamese who simply wanted a free country. Muhammad Ali, with a mind at once spiritual and clear, saw evil and resisted. He was stripped of his heavyweight title, losing his livelihood. Even the Nation of Islam shunned him.

Malcolm X was on his own pilgrimage to Mecca, a hajj to the heart of Islam. After preaching segregation and racial hate for twenty years, Malcolm was on the path of faithfulness.

In the Islamic tradition as well as in the Book of Genesis, the journey to Mecca was one of profound importance. At the dawn of western faith, Abraham drove his lover Hagar and his first born son, Ishmael into the desert at the behest of his wife Sarah. Near Mecca, their water ran out. Ishmael was close to death when an angel appeared and began scratching the ground near him. Water began flowing from the ground — the well of Zamzam (abundant water) became the mainstay of the Mecca community. Abraham stayed in contact with Hagar and Ishmael, and on his third visit he was commanded by God to build a Sacred House. Along with Ishmael he dug in a spot commanded by sakina (a divine presence) and uncovered a foundation built by Adam after his exile with Eve from Eden. Using the sacred power of sound and breath and a Black Stone given them by the angel Gabriel, Abraham and Ishmael constructed the Kaaba – Sacred House. This is still the most sacred site in Islam, toward which Muslims around the world pray five times a day.

April, 1964 — Saudi Prince Muhammad Faisal, decreed that Malcolm was a guest of the state, and one of the most extraordinary transformations in spiritual history was underway. Malcolm Little, ‘Detroit Red’, burglar and numbers runner, arrived in Saudi Arabia as Malcolm X, the fiery ex-spokesman of a renegade Muslim sect. Now, Malcolm was immersing himself in the sacred waters of Islam–total submission to the Will of Allah. He would return to America as El-hajj Malik El-Shabbaz, a prophet of peace and reconciliation. On February 21, 1965, he was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

          For thirty years I sought God, until I realized that god was the seeker and I the one sought. — Al-Bastami

The Soul of a Butterfly 001I was forced to make a choice when Elijah Muhammad insisted that I break with Malcolm. I was on a tour of Egypt, Nigeria, and Ghana. I saw Malcolm in Ghana where he stopped on his way back to America. He’d just finished a holy journey to Mecca that devout Muslims are required to make once in their lives, and he was wearing the traditional Muslim white robes, further signifying his break with Elijah Muhammad. He walked with a cane that looked like a prophet’s stick and he wore a beard. I thought he’d gone too far. When he came to greet me I turned away, making our break public. Turning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life. I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things. But he was killed before I got the chance. He was a visionary–ahead of all of us. — Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali has completed the pilgrimage of Malik El-Shabbaz. His speech slurred and his motor skills weakened by Parkinson’s Syndrome, Ali today teaches us all the meaning of courage and dignity. As a United Nations Messenger of Peace, he was a “relentless advocate for people in need and a significant humanitarian actor in the developing world, supporting relief and development initiatives and hand-delivering food and medical supplies to hospitals, street children and orphanages in Africa and Asia.”

Ali injected God into the arena. Whenever you saw Ali at the end of a fight, before he said anything else he would give all his praise to God. He injected Religion. He injected Faith. He injected Belief. And that turned my grandmother on and my great-grandmother on. Even though he was a Muslim, he turned on the Baptist church and church people like nobody turned them on before. And I’ll tell you something else.The Tent of Abraham 001 If people from outer space come to Earth and we had to give them one representative of our species to show them our physical powers, our spirituality, our decency, our warmth, our kindness and most of all our capacity to love–it would be Ali.  Dick Gregory

Let us honor Muhammad Ali and El-hajj Malik El-Shabbaz, formerly known as Malcom X, by remembering our common heritage as Children of Abraham and treating the strangers among us, the poor and unwelcome, as the lost members of the one family to which we all belong.


The Mystics of Islam 001

Remembrance of God is security for the heart              from Illustrated Secret Egypt

Remembrance of God is security for the heart
—  from P. Brunton’s Illustrated Secret Egypt


Article written by Lawrence Birney, coauthor of the novel, PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation.

????????????????“A thrill ride in the vein of The Da Vinci Code but with a much larger vision for all of us. The alchemy is part historic fiction, part spiritual adventure, and a variety of interfaith metaphysics that metamorphosize into a golden vision of world peace . . . a page turner.”   —Paul Hertel, Whole Living

PURE VISION isavailable in print and as an eBook on Amazon U.S, Amazon UK, Amazon CANADA, Amazon GERMANY, Amazon ITALY, Amazon FRANCE, Amazon SPAIN, Amazon JAPAN, Amazon INDIA, Amazon BRAZIL, Amazon MEXICO, Amazon AUSTRALIA, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple.


Kennedy & Merton: Raids on the Unspeakable

Jfk & Unspeakable 001Great beings often walk among us without notice. Occasionally, their brief lives flash through our world, casting an arc of intense light into the darkest shadows. John F. Kennedy and Thomas Merton were such men.

The great tasks of magnanimous men — to establish with truth, justice, charity, and liberty, new methods of relationships in human society — the task of bringing about true peace in the order established by God. We publicly praise such men and earnestly invite them to persevere in their work with ever greater zeal. It is an imperative of duty; it is a requirement of love.Pope John XXIII

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination (November 22, 1963) one outstanding question appears even more relevant than ever: Was John Kennedy the victim of a plot hatched within one of America’s government agencies? And if so, what are the further implications? James Douglass provides some answers in JFK and the UNSPEAKABLE: Why He Died and Why It Matters.

Along with a detective’s eye for the trail of evidence and a journalist’s passion for a gripping tale, Douglass walks us through Kennedy’s progression from Cold Warrior to Peace Visionary. He brings a unique and powerful focus to his work by combining Kennedy’s pilgrimage with that of Thomas Merton. James Douglass is well suited for this indomitable task. In 1962-64, he was studying theology in Rome and lobbying at the Second Vatican Conference where he met Norman Cousins, who played the role of a secret messenger between Kennedy and Khrushchev. JFK and the Unspeakable is an indispensable book as we reflect on Kennedy’s legacy.

          John F. Kennedy was no saint. Nor was he any apostle of nonviolence. However, as we are all called to do, he was turning. TESHUVAH, ‘turning’, the rabbinic word for repentance, is the explanation for Kennedy’s short-lived, contradictory journey toward peace. He was turning from what would have been the worst violence in history toward a new, more powerful peaceful possibility in his and our lives. He was therefore in deadly conflict with THE UNSPEAKABLE, a term Thomas Merton coined at the heart of the sixties after JFK’s assassination–in the midst of the escalating Vietnam War, the nuclear arms race, and the further assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. In each of those soul-shaking events Merton sensed an evil whose depth and deceit seemed to go beyond the capacity of words to describe. . . JFK’s assassination is rooted in our denial of our nation’s crimes in World War II that began the Cold War and the nuclear arms race . . . By avoiding our responsibility for the escalating crimes of our state done for our security, we who failed to confront The Unspeakable opened the door to JFK’s assassination and its cover-up. — JFK and the Unspeakable

History has provided us with overwhelming evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald was an unwitting pawn in a larger conspiracy. We are ever more aware of the remarkable tally of persons with knowledge of the events in Dallas who died within several years of the assassination. Mark Lane’s LAST WORD: My Indictment of the CIA in the Murder of JFK and Richard Belzer’s HIT LIST: An In-Depth Investigation of the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination lay out many disturbing details.

Immediately after President Kennedy’s assasination, three eyewitnesses saw two men — neither of which resembled Lee Harvey Oswald — kill Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit. It turned out that none of those witnesses were called before the Warren Commission. In addition, before the assassination, George de Mohrenchildt, who was a known associate of the CIA, procured a job for Oswald in Dallas after Oswald returned from Russia as a presumed traitor. Mohrenchildt was found dead in 1977 from a gunshot the day before he was scheduled to testify before Congress about events involving the Kennedy assassination. During the same period in 1977, six FBI officials with connections to the case died; three from heart attacks, one from an accidental fall, and one from a ‘long illness’. The sixth, William C. Sullivan, former head of Domestic Intelligence for the FBI, was shot by a high-powered rifle close to his New Hampshire home. Sullivan was scheduled to give his testimony to Congress the following week.

Another mysterious death was that of Dorothy Kilgallen, a syndicated news reporter and regular on the TV show, What’s My Line. She was the only reporter who interviewed Jack Ruby after he killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Kilgallen was obsessed with proving there had been a coverup in the Kennedy case and was writing a book on the assassination. In 1965, after telling friends she was close to revealing the truth, Kilgallen was found dead in her Manhattan apartment from a mixture of barbiturates and alcohol. Conveniently, her notes were never found. She had even given back-up notes to her friend, Florence Smith, who died one day after Kilgallen. Once again, those notes also disappeared. The list goes on and on.

          We have no evidence as to who in the military-industrial complex may have given the order to assassinate President Kennedy. That the order was carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency is obvious. The CIA’s fingerprints are all over the crime and the events leading to it. — JFK and the Unspeakable

The Bay of Pigs fiasco led a disgusted John Kennedy to fire Allen Dulles as head of the CIA. Ironically, Lyndon Johnson later appointed Dulles to head the Warren Commission investigation into Kennedy’s murder. From Our Lady of Gethsemani Trappist monastery in Kentucky, Merton followed the events. He wrote in his journal on November 30, 1963: The South has apparently accepted Kennedy’s death with great satisfaction and absolutely no charity. On the contrary, some have openly regretted that Bobby was not killed . . . The question of murder, the motives, etc. is still extremely unsatisfactory, and though everyone believes the ‘evidence’ discovered by the Dallas police, perhaps it is not as solid as it sounds. . . . The whole thing is grim, mysterious and much graver than people seem to believe, though God knows everyone was shocked. Our feds wanted a solution at any price and have taken the first one they could get. — Dancing in the Waters of Life

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Merton began sending out copies of “The Cold War Letters” to friends as a means to side step Catholic censors with his views. “In actual fact it would seem that during the Cold War, if not during World War II, this country has become frankly a warfare state built on affluence, a power structure in which the interests of big business, the obsessions of the military, and the phobias of political extremists both dominate and dictate our national policy. It also seems that the people of the country are by and large reduced to passivity, confusion, resentment, frustration, thoughtlessness and ignorance, so that they blindly follow any line that is unraveled for them by the mass media . . . President Kennedy is a shrewd and sometimes adventurous leader. He means well and has the highest motives, and he is without doubt, in a position sometimes so impossible as to be absurd.” Merton also wrote his friend W. H. Ferry,What is needed is really not shrewdness or craft, but what the politicians don’t have: depth, humanity, and a certain totality of self forgetfulness and compassion, not just for individuals but for man as a whole: a deeper kind of dedication. Maybe, Kennedy will break through into that someday by miracle. But such people are before long marked out for assassination.” 

John F. Kennedy, by many accounts, broke through into that extraordinary space where leaders exhibit greatness. In 1962, Kennedy became involved in the negotiations between the United Steelworkers Union and the United States Steel Company. Determined to fight inflation by keeping the price of steel down, Kennedy brokered a deal whereby the union accepted modest raises with the understanding that U.S. Steel would not raise prices. Immediately upon completion of the deal, Roger Blough, chaiman of the company, announced a price increase of 3.5 percent. John Kennedy was furious and ordered his brother, Robert Kennedy, to begin an immediate anti-trust investigation by the Justice Department. JFK issued a statement: “Some time ago I asked each American to consider what he could do for his country, and I asked the steel companies. In the last 24 hours, we had their answer.”

During his time in office, Kennedy was confronted with the same disparity between corporate wealth and public interest that we see today. Indeed, in the last fifty years, we have received the same response from America’s corporate community as Kennedy did — one of continuous disdain for the nation’s welfare and common good. If only our current president, Barak Obama, had some of Kennedy’s spine we may not be confronting such stupendous lack of justice. Obama’s tepid reaction to the greatest financial fraud in the history of the world has been not only disgraceful but mind-boggling. His promises for a more transparent government and fairness to the middle class have turned out for naught. In addition, he clearly used the support of unions to get elected and then disregarded that support, as did the Democratic Party at-large, by taxing union health care plans to pay for Obamacare.

          Compare our monastery and the General Electric plant in Louisville. Which one is the more serious and more ‘religious’ institution? One might be tempted to say ‘the monastery’ out of sheer habit. But, in fact, the religious seriousness of the monastery is like sandlot baseball compared with the big-league seriousness of General Electric. It may in fact occur to many, including the monks, to doubt the monastery and what it represents. Who doubts G.E.? —  Thomas Merton

Raids on the Unspeakable 001In the winter of 1964-65 Merton made expeditions into the woods around the hermitage to take pictures of the stark but intricate crisscrossing patterns of the branches and twigs against the the sky on a dull day. On another dull day he wondered if he hadn’t wasted far too much film on a jagged stump twisted on its side, which he photographed from every angle, fascinated with the thorn like forms that seemed to jut out with arrested violence from the central core. One such ‘thorn’ pattern appears on the cover of the book of essays he was putting together at the hermitage, Raids on the Unspeakable. It provides a subtle link between seen image and literary subject. The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton by Michael Mott.

Deeply affected by Hannah Arendt’s coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem for The New Yorker magazine, Merton conceived one of his most powerful works — A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann appears in RAIDS ON THE UNSPEAKABLE. One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane . . . We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are most dangerous. It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. . . . We can no longer assume that because a man is ‘sane’ he is therefore in his ‘right’ mind. The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless . . . Torture is nothing new, is it? We ought to be able to rationalize a little brainwashing and genocide . . . Even Christians can shake off their sentimental prejudices about charity, and become sane like Eichmann . . . On the other hand, you will find the pacifists and the ban-the-bomb people are, quite seriously, just as we read in TIME, a little crazy.Thomas Merton

As Merton indicates, we cannot leave it to our national leaders — the “sane ones”  — to lead us out of the ever spiraling cycle of violence the world finds itself in. They, in fact, are crazy. It is up to the “odd balls” and those not willing to accept the so-called sanity of experts to stand as one and say No More.

Hanns and Rudolf 001
Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption. — Baal Shem Tov.
How could this happen? Who did it? And why? These are eternal questions pivotal to Merton’s thoughts on Adolf Eichmamn. In April of 1939, a prison official at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp was given the task of establishing a new camp in Oświęcim, Poland. Rudolf Höss made Auschwitz into the most efficient and notorious killing field in history. By 1944, over one million persons were killed, mostly by toxic gas fumes.Thomas Harding tells the story with memorable clarity in HANNS AND RUDOLF: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught The Kommandant of Auschwitz.

War and the profits to be made from it were recurring themes for Thomas Merton. He wrote Ethel Kennedy, Bobby’s wife, in 1961,”There is no getting around the fact that the making and testing of nuclear weapons is profitable and indeed in some sense vital to many people in this country. Hence these people, however sincere may be their motives, tend to be prejudiced in favor of everything that endangers the peace of the world. They may not want war but they live by defense industries and they want weapons. And to want weapons as badly as they do is, I am afraid, tantamount to wanting war. That is how wars are made . . .  I therefore hope and trust that every precaution will be taken to prolong the ban on nuclear testing as long as possible.” 

JFK's Last Hundred Days 001

We may never know if John Kennedy, a Catholic, read this letter. Thurston Clarke addresses the issue in his wonderful new book, JFK”s LAST HUNDRED DAYS: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of A Great President.Glenn Seaborg, who headed the Atomic Energy Commission and met with Kennedy often that summer [1963], thought he felt more passionately about it than any other measure sponsored by his administration, and called his determination to halt atmospheric testing and the spread of nuclear weapons ‘like a religion’ to him.

The nuclear threat John Kennedy and Thomas Merton so feared remains with us today. Eric Schlosser’s new book Command and Control offers a blunt assessment of the dangers involved. His chilling recount of the military’s nuclear program revolves around an incident that began on September 18, 1980 when an Air Force technician dropped a socket wrench inside a Titan Missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas. This, however, is only the tip of an Abbot and Costello parade of near misses involving nuclear weapons that the military has been concealing for sixty years. These “sane” individuals can no longer be trusted with mankind’s survival. Another Fukushima catastrophe awaits if we don’t stop them.

We now know that JFK was reaching out to Khrushchev and Castro and intended to begin withdrawing from Vietnam after the 1964 election. Instead, the American weapons manufacturers and the generals who buy their products embarked on a fifty year orgasm of failed ventures in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Countless lives and trillions of dollars later, they continue pumping our U.S citizens into a frenzy with relentless second amendment charades. If wars abroad should slack off, well, we can have an endless one here at home against each other. Still, the neocons show no shame or remorse for their assault on Christian morality and human dignity. They continue to profit from war and weapon sales. Their indecencies will not stop until we publish their names and faces and not allow them to hide in the board rooms and executives suites of the world’s arms merchants.

Merton & Friends 001Friendship and faith were the twin elements in Merton’s life. For a fuller appreciation, read MERTON & FRIENDS: A Joint Biography of Thomas Merton, Robert Lax, and Edward Rice by James Harford. Merton attended Columbia University in New York City in the late 1930’s. His friend Robert Lax went on to be a world renowned poet and lived most of his life on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea where the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation. Edward Rice was an author and photographer who edited the Catholic magazine Jubilee  from 1953 to 1967. The name stems from Jubilate Deo (Praise God). With regular contributions from Lax and Merton Jubilee must have been a wonderful read. It explains why Rice’s biography of Merton, The Man in the Sycamore Tree, was so well written. The title comes from an unpublished novel of Merton’s he wrote in their hippie period in Olean, New York. Jubilee struggled throughout its existence with money. As much as it strangled Merton, the Church sought to stifle the fresh voices rising from the magazine.

Jubilee: A Magazine of the Church and Her People deeply affected its many readers. Lax and Merton made contributions to the publication throughout its existence. Padre Pio, Thích Nhất Hạnh and Maria Montessori were first introduced in its pages. One Albanian nun, later to be known as Mother Teresa, made Jubilee’s office her first stop when she came to America. That the New York diocese discouraged wealthy Catholics from supporting a fresh inspiring voice was a sign of a larger problem. Frank discussions of lapsed Catholics, birth control, and Asian religions angered Church officials.

          Catholics who remember what a powerful impact JUBILEE magazine had on those itching for change in the pre-Vatican II 1950s — lay and religious alike — are tempted to believe it was no less than a twentieth century intervention by the Holy Spirit. — James Harford

Fifty years on, its hard to believe that in 1960 the Father General of the Trappist order forbade Merton to write D.T. Suzuki, a Zen Master, citing communicato cum infidele, communication with the infidel. Merton, of course, continued and his correspondence became legion, then legendary. In 1961, he wrote Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, “I wish I knew more about doing teshuva. It is the only thing that seems to make sense  these days. And in the political dark, I light a small, frail light about peace and hold it up in the whirlwinds.” 

James Carroll, author of CONSTANTINE”S SWORD: The Church and The Jews stated, “Merton, as much as anyone, put us on this road to change, and he remains our steady companion in this unfinished journey. I did not know this in 1961, of course, but Merton was already well along this road, even before I knew that it lay ahead of us. While I was reading his 1948 masterpiece, a monument to a world that had not changed in 700 years, he was using the word, teshuva — already a sign of change he had undergone and a sign that he saw change was necessary, while I was still enthralled with American virtue and American power. I stood moved to tears in the presence of John Kennedy at his Inauguration vowing with him to go anywhere, fight any foe . . . Thomas Merton, at that point, had already written to Ernesto Cardenal — the date is November 20, 1961 — ‘Pray for us. We are starting an American peace movement. It will be very difficult. We are, alas, very late.”  Merton & Judaism

Merton-Soul Searching 001“Merton’s fierce social consciousness and conscience will not let us move from the Jesus tradition of nonviolence . . . Merton disturbs us and has been disturbing us since he began writing in a number of arenas. One arena is his social criticism, his unrelenting commitment to the nonviolence of Jesus. . . . within the Christian tradition, we have made our agreement or compromises with what we call reality. Merton didn’t go there . . . he stayed very much on the side of this prophetic witness of Jesus and the early gospel tradition . . . if we do a reading of his writings on nonviolence, on war, on poverty, on racism, on injustice, his writings are as relevant and contemporary today as when he was writing in the 1950s and 1960s. His writings have an uncanny relevance, a disquieting, uncomfortable relevance.” Kathleen Deignan from the film SOUL SEARCHING: The Journey of Thomas Merton.

Sophia 001The Spirit of God speaks to the faithful in between the lines of divine revelation, telling us things that are not evident to the inspection of scholarship or reason — Thomas Merton.

The seeds of contemplation Merton planted in the spiritual heart of the world must be continuously nourished. “Merton’s mystical theology mines the space between the revealed word and silence.” — SOPHIA: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton

Merton did walk with joy. he walked explosively, bang bang bang. as though fireworks, small and they too, joyful, went off every time his heel hit the ground . . . that was true when he was in college, and it was true when he was just out of college, and it was true the last time I saw him bang bang bang banging down the long hallway of the monastery. he walked with joy, bounced with joy,: knew where he was going.  Robert Lax

On December 10, 1968, twenty-seven years to the day he entered Our Lady of Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky, Thomas Merton died, electrocuted by a fan after taking a shower. He was in Bagkok, Thailand for a conference sponsored by the Benedictine organization Aid for Implementing Monasticism. Before his death he met with many Buddhist luminaries including the Dalai Lama, Ka;u Rinpoche by Merton 001Chogyam Trungpa, and Chatral Rinpoche. He said of Kalu Rinpoche, “He is a small, thin man with a strange concavity at the temples as if his skull had been pressed in by huge thumbs. Soft-spoken like all of them, he keeps fingering his rosary, and patiently answered my many questions on the hermit retreat . . . At first he was evasive about it and talked of Mahayana in general until he was apparently satisfied and said I had the “true Mahayana spirit.” Then he went on in more detail.” Merton & Buddhism

Thomas Merton by Edward Rice 001This photo, from The Man in the Sycamore Tree by Edward Rice shows Merton “at the height of his powers. He was deep in his Buddhist studies, and the monastery had become a background for his work rather than the subject  Less than three years later he was dead.”

Merton concluded his talk (Marxism and Monastic Perspectives) the morning of his death with these remarks. “It is the view that if you once penetrate by detachment and purity of heart to the inner secret of the ground of your ordinary experience, you attain to a liberty that nobody can touch, that nobody can affect, that no political change of circumstances can do anything to . . . The essential thing for this, in the Buddhist tradition, is the formation of spiritual masters who can bring it out in the hearts of people who are as yet unformed. Wherever you have somebody capable of giving some kind of direction and instruction to a small group attempting to do this thing, attempting to love and serve God and reach union with him, you are bound to have some kind of monasticism. . . It represents an instinct of the human heart, and it represents a charism given by God to man. It cannot be rooted out, because it does not depend on man. . . I will conclude on that note. I believe the plan is to have all the questions for this morning’s lectures this evening at the panel. So I will disappear from view and we can all have a Coke or something. Thank you so very much. . . 

Several hours later, Thomas Merton was found dead on a terrazzo floor with an electric fan still running on his chest. The priest who pushed it away received a small shock. Reflecting upon Merton’s passing, it is impossible not to recall the final line of The Seven Storey Mountain:

           That you may become the brother of God and learn to know the Christ of the burnt men.

The Silent Life 001     This was the first time that I had been struck by such a feeling of spirituality in anyone who professed Christianity . . . It was Merton who introduced me to the real meaning of the word ‘Christian’.  —  Dalai Lama

The Blessed Mother and Dimitry Dudko’s Gulag Path to Christ

Pain is not the path to Christ, yet The Path to Christ is paved with pain. After serving in the Red Army during the second World War, Dimitry Dudko entered the seminary in Moscow. In 1948, he was arrested and sent to the Gulag camps for writing poems that were deemed to be critical of Stalin. After his release in 1956, he returned to the seminary and graduated in 1960.

The Last Man in Russia 001The Last Man in Russia is not a biography of Father Dudko. Oliver Bullough attempts something even more meaningful and ambitious. His story is a travelogue and critique of the failures of Soviet Russia. With the world’s attention turning toward Russia in the wake of Edward Snowden and the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, Bullough’s timing is perfect. If you want to look into Putin’s eyes read this book.

Russia is a country in free fall. In the West, we associate Russia with criminal gangs, computer crime and ultra-rich oligarchs. Actually, according to Bullough, the key debilitating element is alcohol abuse. From 1965 to 1995, the death rate in Russia from alcoholism tripled. The ongoing collapse of Russian society has a long history. In the tenth century, King Vladimir declared, “drinking is the joy of the Russians. We cannot exist without that pleasure.”

Dimitry DudkoDimitry Dudko was born in 1922 to a peasant family in Bryansk. His father was imprisoned for refusing to join a collective farm following the October Revolution. As a Christian revolutionary priest, his reputation spread in late 1973 when he gave a series of outspoken sermons at St. Nicholas Church in Moscow. He candidly addressed issues of faith and sin. He welcomed questions — submitted anonymously but answered publicly — that often addressed issues such as abortion, alcohol abuse, and despair. His response to the dilemma his country faced was a simple one. “As the communists use the slogan ‘Workers of the world, unite’, we must say ‘Believers of the world, unite.’  We must create the Kingdom of God here on earth,” he said. “If you do not defend others, then you are not defending yourself, and you are leaving the field open for attack.

Father Vladimir Sedov is one of those interviewed by Oliver Bullough as he traveled around Russia in search of Father Dimitry’s legacy. “It is hard to fight a totalitarian system. People who were scared, who needed support, they went to him. They were poets, artists. They had heard of this priest that you could freely talk to. A lot of people sensed what I sensed, that Father Dimitry was the most life-loving and optimistic man we ever met, and he was a man who had lived the hardest life.” 

As for the authorities, they wanted to make certain that this optimism did not spread. Father Dimitry was sent away from Moscow, silenced and betrayed. In 1980, the KGB broke him, then paraded him on television to recant his activities. He later said, “I consider my confession to have been treacherous, if not before God and the church, then toward those friends with whom I was walking along the same path and doing the same work.” He died in 2004, crushed under the totalitarian heel of the Russian government. The real loser was the soul of Russia. Father Dimitry’s soul remained intact.

We’re afraid of strictness. We’re afraid of life’s difficulties. We consider an easy life the height of blessedness. But let’s be critical of ourselves. We’ve already been indulgent with ourselves . . . In order to renew all things, we’ve got to become ascetics. Indulgence threatens us with destruction . . . You call upon us to adjust to the 20th century and to make religion into a comfortable mockery. But we shouldn’t tailor religion to our caprices. We should follow its demands. — Father Dimitry Dudko

Mary of Fatima - 001It is no surprise that the Virgin Mary places the greatest emphasis on Russia’s role in the world. On July 13, 1917, she told three children in Fatima, Portugal, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. As we know, the Blessed Mother’s hopes for Russia have not been realized. Just ask the people of Syria or the Copts — the First Christians — in Egypt. We clearly see that Russia needs our prayers.

Teresa of Avila, (March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582), revered from the first and for several centuries, has become a favorite of feminists, a model of assertion and triumph in the face of the most enduring male  hierarchy in Western history (T. Nevin). Teresa established the foundation which became Western Christian mysticism. Using the analogy of a garden, she declared four methods of prayer.

Teresa of Avila 001Now let’s see how this garden should be watered, so that we understand what we have to do and how much work it requires, whether the end result is worth the effort, and how long it’s going to take. It seems to me that the garden can be watered in four ways: you can draw the water from a well, which as we know is very labor intensive; or by using a waterwheel and buckets, worked by a crank (I’ve sometimes drawn it in this way, which is less work than the first, and brings up more water); or you can get it from a stream or spring, which does a much better job of soaking the ground, because the soil retains more moisture and needs watering less often–and that’s less work for the gardener; or from a heavy rain, when the Lord is watering it Himself with no help from us. And this last method is far and away better than all the others . . . Beginners in prayer, she goes on, are the ones who have to pray with their heads–their hearts aren’t ready yet . . . The beauty of the prayer of quiet–the second stage of prayer–is that it comes unannounced . .  . Let’s talk about the third water now, which irrigates this garden–now the Lord wants to help the gardener so badly he almost becomes the gardener, and does practically everything . . . the fourth level of payer, ecstasy comes without warning, so swiftly and powerfully that the soul ‘sees and feels this cloud or mighty eagle lifting it up and bearing it away on its wings’.
From Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul  by Cathleen Medwick. Bear in mind Teresa was writing about mysticism in Spain at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. She lived her motto: Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.

Last Days of Saint Therese 001We often associate St.Thérèse de Lisieux (January 2, 1873 – September 30, 1897) with the treacle paved path to sainthood. Perhaps this is due to her nom de guerre, Little Flower, which sounds dainty, delicate, gentle and balanced. To understand the toughness of her spirit, it is enough to examine her motivating force. She wrote, “Most of all do I imitate the behavior of Magdalene, for her amazing–or rather I should say her loving–audacity, which delighted the Heart of Jesus, has cast its spell upon mine.”

Thérèse followed in Teresa’s footsteps, becoming only the second female Doctor of the Church, a testimony to her overarching intellect and discipline. The Last Years of Saint Thérèse: Doubt and Darkness, 1895-1897 by Thomas R. Nevin examines Thérèse’s final writings. Much of the appeal that Thérèse has won over several generations lies at this subterranean level of the mythic, even though it is not centrally a part of Christian tradition. She is, along with Joan of Arc the Patron Saint of France. The Cathedral of Lisieux is second only to Lourdes in the number of pilgrims it draws.

In early December 1941, while teaching at St. Bonaventure, Thomas Merton was torn between working at Friendship House in Harlem or going to Kentucky and becoming a Trappist. In the woody grove, at the shrine of St. Thérèse, the dark was intense, and there was a silence, cold as the chilling rain. ‘Please help me.’ He clasped his hands in anguish. ‘What am I going to do? I can’t go on like this. Look at the state I am in. Show me the way. Show me what to do.’ Suddenly in the strange silence a sound came, clear, not imaginary. It was a bell. The great bell in the big gray tower of Gethsemani was ringing. Thomas Merton by Cornelia and Irving Sussman.

????????????????My introduction to the power of praying to St. Thérèse came in the fall of 1999. My wife, Angelina, and I had just begun writing our novel PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation, the story of a worldwide women’s march to create a world peace capital coupled with a search for the mythic land of Shambhala. During my lunch break, I ventured to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan not knowing that St. Thérèse’s relics (bones) were on display in a small ornate casket. Having only the barest thread of a storyline to begin work on our novel, I prayed, “Thérèse please give me a hook, something to build our story around.” On my way back to work, I received the answer. The spear thrust into the side of Christ by the Centurion Longinus was also carried into battle by Constantine and Charlemagne and was eventually possessed by Hitler. The spear’s story and it’s reputation as a sacred talisman would provide an important key to our book.

When I returned to our apartment that evening and conveyed the idea to Angelina, she shared my excitement. We now had a central element around which to craft a tale.The occult’s appeal to powerful men is universal although the spiritual face of mysticism is feminine. We could use this tension in our novel. We could explore how  imperative it is that the voice of women rise to the fore and drown out the drone of weaponry and monetary gain.

One of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life occurred during Easter Week of 1969, spliced halfway between my mother’s death and the Woodstock Festival. With a college group, I visited Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery outside St. Petersburg, where close to 500,000 people who died during the German siege of Leningrad (as it was known then) during WW II were buried in mass graves. In the summer, the cemetery was a huge rose garden. On the day of our visit, the rose bushes were all protected by wooden boxes which were covered with about two feet of snow. It was so cold! Prokofiev’s score for Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film Alexander Nevsky was playing over loudspeakers. At that moment, the immensity of Russia’s tradition of sacrifice, depth and cultural-spiritual excellence was totally embedded into my mind. Russia — Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Dmitri Egorov, The Way of a Pilgrim and Peter the Great.

It is with that appreciation in mind that I call on all persons no matter what your faith or lack thereof. Heed the call of the Divine Mother and begin the journey homeward where spirit resides. Pray for Russia, as you would a fallen sister in despair, for her fate parallels the world’s.

The Searchers, Dirty Wars, Fortress Israel and the New Jerusalem

Three remarkable books have been published recently. THE SEARCHERS: The Making of an American Legend, DIRTY WARS: The World is a Battlefield, and FORTRESS ISRAEL: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country — And Why They Can’t Make Peace. These publications reflect the gaze of three of America’s most eminent journalists on a common theme: when cultures clash and territorial issues arise, violence is usually the final arbitrator.

The Searchers 001I picked up THE SEARCHERS expecting to read about the classic 1956 John Ford western starring John Wayne. Of course the author’s bio from the book jacket drew my attention. Glenn Frankel understands ethnic conflict. As Jerusalem bureau chief for the Washington Post he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for “sensitive and balanced reporting from Israel and the Middle East.”  Frankel retired from the Post after twenty-seven years and now directs the School of Journalism at the University of Texas.

My next surprise was the book itself which begins with a fascinating account of Texas in the 1830’s. Shortly after Santa Anna’s army overcame the Alamo in San Antonio killing James Bowie, William Travis and David Crockett on March 6, 1836, a raiding band of Comanches attacked a settler outpost, Fort Parker. Five settlers were killed and five were taken prisoner. Cynthia Ann Parker, who was nine at the time, spent the next twenty-nine years with the Comanches. Her uncle, James Parker spent those years tracking her down and exacting revenge on all Indians for the death of his father and brother. This is the essence of the story upon which the film, The Searchers was based.

Yet Frankel takes us on a wider path with his narrative. At the time of the Alamo, Texas was an independent country led by Sam Houston who had run away from his boyhood Tennessee home to live with the Cherokee Indians for three years. He called the Cherokee chief Oolooteka father and considered the Cherokee his family. As subsequent events took place, Houston’s wisdom and council were to no avail, with Texans maddened by violence and bent on revenge.

What had started as a tit-for-tat struggle over horse thievery and hunting rights was quickly evolving into the most protracted conflict ever waged on American soil, a forty-year blood feud between two alien civilizations. Neither side believed the other was fully human. Comanches saw the Texans as invaders without conscience who occupied their lands, destroyed their hunting grounds, and broke every promise. Texans saw Comanches as human vermin, brutal, merciless and sadistic . . . Texans used the term “depredations” to describe Comanche atrocities. In the Texan view, this was not warfare as practiced by civilized men but rather a form of depraved, predatory attack by wild beasts. The only possible solution was to cage or kill the perpetrators . . . Revisionist historians have characterized these campaigns as exercises in ethnic cleansing. Despite the emotionally charged context, it’s a label hard to refute. — Glenn Frankel

Round barn 001Many a month has come and gone
Since I wandered from my home
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
Many a page of life has turned
Many a lesson I have learned
Well, I feel like in those hills I still belong.

Way down yonder in the Indian Nation
Ridin’ my pony on the reservation
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
Now, way down yonder in the Indian Nation
A cowboy’s life is my occupation
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born. 

from the song Oklahoma Hills by Woody Guthrie

When I was thirteen years old my parents put me on a plane in Tripoli, Libya and I traveled by myself to Wichita, Kansas. There my Uncle Vern, Aunt Kathryn and my cousins, Jonelle and Joe, greeted me. My father, having grown up on a wheat and cattle ranch thirty miles from Dodge City during the Dust Bowl, had decided a similar upbringing would be of benefit for me. My father’s family was large and extremely patriarchal. My grandfather, J.W. Birney, President of the Kansas Livestock Association and on the boards of the local school and bank had ruled with a strong hand and tongue. His profanity was loud and renowned. As the youngest children, my father Lawrence and his brother Vern had little direct contact with J.W. It became my father’s task to take full responsibility for his younger brother. So it would now be my Uncle Vern who would be taking on the task of caring for me.

The American Great Plains is a staggering, beautiful and humbling experience. The land stretches, like an ocean, from horizon to horizon. Massive thunderclouds pile up, billowing atop each other, rolling angrily from the distant, unseen Rockies. Lightning flashes laterally in the evening darkness, telegraphing power and might from an awesome God. From Texas to Canada these grass plains are the world’s breadbasket. Wheat rules the seasons and the voice of vanished Indians is strong. I sensed their unseen presence driving tractors for endless hours under a relentless sun and tossing hay bales high into the loft of the Froome-Birney round barn in Kiowa County with a pitch fork.

During that time, I recognized the importance of honoring the Indian legacy and the willingness to restore our own birthright as humble participants in an earthly journey of personal and communal discovery. When we fail to honor those who cared for the land before us, we place ourselves above the divinity who made us both and call our own stewardship into question. Frankel’s The Searchers brought that fact home once again.

          The savage war of peace between Texans and Comanches was now in full destructive bloom, a violent adolescent tearing at its own flesh — The Searchers

Jeremy Scahill is an investigative reporter of incomparable skill. He has worked in the former Yugoslav Republic, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen. His most recent work DIRTY WARS: The World is a Battlefield is, simply put, disturbing. His prologue recounts a young man killed by a drone missile.

          The boy was outdoors with his cousins — teenagers like him — laying a picnic for dinner beneath the stars. It was then he would have heard the drones approaching, followed by the whiz of the missiles. It was a direct hit. The boy and his cousins were blown to pieces. All that remained of the boy was the back of his head, his flowing hair still clinging to it. The boy had turned sixteen years-old a few weeks earlier and now he had been killed by his own government. He was the third US citizen to be killed in operations authorized by the president in two weeks. The first was his father.

Dirty Wars 001Anwar al Awlaki was born on April 22, 1971 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His father, Nasser, was a PhD candidate in agricultural economics from Yemen. Awlaki grew up in Nebraska and Minnesota. Scahill follows his progression from being an average American boy to Awlaki’s interest in Islam and career as an imman. Much had changed through the years and by 1999, Awlaki was on the FBI radar. He drew national recognition as the face of a moderate, well spoken, intelligent religion after 9/11, speaking with the Washington Post and The New York Times. After that the trail grows murky. Was Awlaki hounded into radicalization by the FBI, or did he become an informant? Villain or victim? He left the US for Britain in 2002. His firey sermons became a staple for radical Muslims around the world. He corresponded with Nidal Malik Hassan, the army psychiatrist who murdered thirteen fellow soldiers at Ft. Hood, Texas in 2009.

Was Anwar Awlaki’s killing in 2011 by the US government legal? Two facts jump out. First the death of his son Abdulrahman two weeks later was murder. Second, any legal opinion offered by Eric Holder is worthless. His Justice Department’s obsession with pot smokers, whistle blowers and journalists is Nixonesque. His refusal, even when presented with evidence by the FHA, to investigate the banking industry after the largest financial crime in the history of the world makes him the worst US Attorney General in history. The image of Holder following James Rosen of Fox News around Washington like Inspector Jacques Clouseau will haunt his legacy forever. Unbelievable. This after the Obama administration allowed itself to be swept along with the crushing tide of criminal sociopaths that destroyed the world economy, and not one indictment.

DIRTY WARS: The World is a Battlefield is a broad reaching and spellbinding account of the entire War on Terror and the absolute failure of violence as the sole antidote to violence, as well as the extreme blowback created by the ‘drone’ mentality that grips the Obama administration, even toward journalists who sympathized with their goals. Which brings us to Israel.

Patrick Tyler, a seasoned reporter with both the Washington Post and The New York Times, in a riveting account, has detailed what has been obvious for many years. Israel’s obsession with violent retribution and weaponry is based on state policy that dates to the early days under David Ben-Gurion. FORTRESS ISRAEL: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country — And Why They Can’t Make Peace is an unpleasant read for anyone who holds to the notion of a Jewish David facing down Goliath.

Fortress Israel 001In 1955, as Britain was preparing to withdraw eighty thousand troops stationed along the Suez Canal, the Israeli Defense Ministry under Pinhas Lavon came up with a plan to bomb public targets, including cinemas, in Cairo and Alexandria frequented by British and American citizens. The idea was to create a sense of panic making it impossible for the British troops to leave. The plan was unmasked and several Israeli operatives were eventually executed as terrorists. Ironically, this heightened the sense of injustice felt in Israel and made it impossible for the voice of reason to be heard. Prime Minister Moshe Sharett who had worked alongside Ben-Gurion since 1933 had lived among Arabs in Ramallah and Jaffa as a boy. He spoke Arabic, and his Zionism — his ambition for a Jewish state and homeland — was suffused with humanist precepts about coexistence.But the decision was made to forge a path with swords not diplomacy. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Historian Benny Morris wrote a harsh commentary on FORTRESS ISRAEL in the Jewish Review of Books. Tyler’s purpose in writing this book was not to offer his readers an honest history, it was to blacken Israel’s image. FORTRESS ISRAEL is just the latest in a spate of venomous perversions of the record that have appeared in the past few years in the United States and Britain, all clearly designed to subvert Israel’s standing in the world. Deliberately or not, such books are paving the way for a future abandonment of the Jewish state. He goes on to add,  The appeasement of the Arab-Islamist world at Israel’s expense is in the air and Tyler is one of its (very, very) minor harbingers. This last line suggests some personal pique, this petty tonality needlessly detracts from Morris’ argument.

Jerusalem 1913 001In her classic book JERUSALEM 1913 Amy Dockser Marcus, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, states, In choosing 1913 as my focus, I realized that what happened that year more than any other answered the question that had bothered me during my time in Israel: Why had things gone wrong. Later she writes, By now each side had already made a crucial misjudgement they would continue to affect its policies in Palestine for years to come: the Muslims were convinced the Jews would never win, while the Jews believed the Arabs would someday yield.

In his Farewell Address, President Eisenhower said, We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. After Israel invaded Egypt in 1956 and France and Britain began bombing Cairo, Eisenhower said the United Nations could not survive if Israel was allowed to change its borders through conquest. He went on national television and forced Israel, with the threat of sanctions to withdraw from Sinai. Almost sixty years later, his words seem prophetic. Fanning flames with weaponry has given rise to radical Islam as an existential threat to the entire world. It takes no vision to realize that continuing on our present path places us all in peril.

Instead, we must look within for the answer. Politicians keep a steady focus on their next election, and capitalism sees every crisis as an opening for a free-for-all weapons market. A leap of consciousness is essential to reach a resolution, and that leap needs to  include women. We can’t create peace without half the world in on it.

In addition, the search for justice, more than any other cause, motivates people. That is the missing link. PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation by Perri Birney is a fictional tale of women from around the world moving toward Jerusalem with a single voice. Their aim: the creation of an international City of Peace. PURE VISION underscores the fact that military, political and economic initiatives are what have led us into our current world crisis and can only serve to further entrap us. The novel highlights a sense of immediacy, noting the time is now, the need is here, and the means are women.

This new Jerusalem was alive — it was now. Not a vague prophecy for future generations but a here-and-now proposition for action. Maggie felt the pain of the mothers . . . mothers who had lost their children to war. She spoke for those weary of violence. She neither sought nor feigned justification for her prayer. It was simple, from the heart. Pray for peace, and let Jerusalem be its capital.  —  PURE VISION

Dzogchen and Kerouac — Alive with Words

Longchen Rabjam 001LONGCHENPA and JACK KEROUAC — a Tibetan yogi and a western author — reshaped our world through their writings.

Few authors stir our imagination in the West like Jack Kerouac. Kerouac rewrote the use of language in literature.

Longchenpa in Tibet wafts the same smoke and scent. He established the efficacy of words to express the inexpressible: The Dharmakaya. A state Vessantara described as “unconditioned consciousness, beyond space and time.”

On the Road 001Completed in the early fifties, ON THE ROAD was published in 1957. The true life adventures of Neal Cassady, left (portrayed as Dean Moriarty) and Kerouac, right (Sal Paradise) made icons of both men. Born Jean-Louis Kerouac on March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac’s native language was French. His early difficulties with English instilled in him an obsession with the use of words to set the stage for memory relived realities. Known as Memory Babe in high school for his astonishing ability to recall events and conversations word for word, Kerouac was also a gifted athlete who went to Columbia on a football scholarship. Already set in a lifetime pattern of refusal to conform to custom or discipline, Kerouac dropped out of football and resolved to spend his life writing. Allen Ginsberg became a lifetime friend of Jack’s at Columbia University.

Published a year after On the Road, THE DHARMA BUMS rewrote my life. Like all of Kerouac’s works, The Dharma Bums is autobiographical, based on adventures with the poet, Gary Snyder (Japhy). Now deeply immersed in Buddhism after a trip to Mexico, Jack (Ray) shares three week old cheese, wine and a boxcar with a “little bum sitting crosslegged at his end before a pitiful repast of one can of sardines.”

          “He ate the cheese and bread and drank the wine with gusto and gratitude. I was pleased. I reminded myself of the line in the Diamond Sutra that says, “Practice charity without holding in mind any conceptions about charity, for charity after all is just a word.” I was very devout in those days and was practicing my religious devotions almost to perfection…I believed I was an oldtime bhikku in modern clothes wandering the world (usually the immense triangular arc of New York to Mexico City to San Francisco) in order to turn the wheel of the True Meaning, or Dharma, and gain merit for myself as a future Buddha (Awakener) and as a future Hero in Paradise. I had not met Japhy Ryder yet, I was about to the next week, or heard anything about “Dharma Bums” although at this time I was a perfect Dharma bum myself and considered myself a religious wanderer. The little bum in the gondola solidified all my beliefs by warming up to the wine and talking and finally whipping out a tiny slip of paper which contained a prayer by Saint Teresa announcing that after her death she will return to the earth by showering it with roses from heaven, for all living creatures.”  — The Dharma Bums

I’m sure that passage had long gone from my mind many years later when my wife, Angelina, and I  began work on our novel PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation. Of course I knew who Teresa (Saint Thérèse of Lisieux) was when I took my lunch break from Technicolor movie lab, one block from Times Square. I did not know that the her reliquary was being displayed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. Before I entered the Cathedral’s great vaulted wooden entrance, Angelina had already envisioned the rough outline of a story concerning a terrorist attack on Jerusalem that would frame our proposed plan for peace in the Middle East. What we lacked was a hook, a pivot upon which to focus our story, a hub around which to fashion a plot.Spear of Destiny 001 So when I realized Teresa’s relics were present, I entered a fervent plea for her intervention, “Give us a hook, please, dear Saint.”

I have spent much of my life either in, or on the way to or from, bookstores. So it was in character for me to swing by Barnes & Noble on my return to Technicolor. There, in the basement, among the New Age and Esoterica collection, was a book I had never seen before — that in itself was amazing. For this fascinating title should have drawn my gaze many times over. THE SPEAR OF DESTINY by Trevor Ravenscroft was first published in 1973, not long after I first read THE DHARMA BUMS, and had been in paperback since 1982. Subtitled The Occult Power Behind the Spear which pierced the side of Christ . . . and how Hitler inverted the Force in a bid to conquer the World, I knew I had the answer to my prayer, and within fifteen minutes! To this day, Teresa is the patron saint of PURE VISION.

When I showed Angelina THE SPEAR OF DESTINY that evening, she understood immediately. The spear shoved into Jesus’ side by the Centurion Longinus to ease his suffering would become the starting point of our narrative. E - Hung - E 001

LONGCHEN RABJAMPA, 1308-1364, and the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (seen here), were students of Rigdzin Kumaradza, a great master of Dzogchen (Clear Light Great Completion). Longchenpa performed the most extraordinary feat in Tibetan Rangjung Dorje 001Buddhism. He mastered the expression of the infinite through the finite expression of the written word. His father was a tantric yogi. At the moment of his conception, his mother dreamed of a sun placed on the head of a lion, illuminating the world. Kumaradza’s training was strenuous and involved continuous moving from encampment to encampment amidst the most rugged Tibetan terrain. This training instilled in Longchenpa a distaste for traditional scholars and monastics. The day of Longchenpa’s arrival, Kumaradza told his students, “Last night I dreamt that a wonderful bird, which announced itself to be a divine bird, came with a large flock in attendance and carried away my books in all directions. Therefore, someone will come to hold my lineage.” The terminology we associate with Dzogchen today dates to Longchenpa.

His works are available with commentary by numerous prominent teachers. Padma Publishing under the direction of Richard Barron (Lama Chokyi Nyima, shown here with Chokyi Nyima 001Kalu Rinpoche, from The Chariot For Travelling the Path to Freedom) has done a superlative job. The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena and Longchnepa’s commentary on his own text, A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission, are amazing books.

Reading Tibetan is essential to serious Vajrayana pratice, and without that ability chanting is not possible. Dharma books which do not include the original text will not have lasting value. Tibetan is a surprisingly easy language to learn to read. The key is spelling. You can learn to spell  by first identifying the letters, and then recognizing the accent marks and how they affect the pronunciation. Translating scriptural texts is difficult. The language is cryptic and shadowed with vaguery. The translation team established  by Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche is to be commended. The The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena has the Tibetan text on the left hand page and an English translation on the right. A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission is entirely in English with a glossary in the back.

      Just as all light is subsumed within the sun as its source, all phenomena are subsumed within awakened mind as their source —  Longchen Rabjam

The Nyingma (the Ancient Ones) school of Tibetan Buddhism dates to Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche. One of the greatest strengths of the Nyingma — a strong lay presence — has served it well in the West. Ngagpas, non-monastic tantric yogis, are an essential element to a strong Dharma community. Many Nyingma teachers have imparted their wisdom and dedication to learning Tibetan and essential Dharma practice through empowerments (wangs) and verbal authorization (lungs). Growing strong communities without the cultural and mental entrapment of monastic vows  has been effective in the West.

Vidyadharas 001Queen of Great Bliss 001

Faith is the great engine which drives spiritual progress. “Go,said Jesus, “Your faith has healed you.” The man recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road. (Gospel of Mark 10:52)

RIGDZIN JIGMA LINGPA (1730-1798), born over 400 years after Longchenpa, had faith. His faith transformed Buddhism in Tibet, and his faith continues to transform the world. Jigme Jigmed Lingpa 001Lingpa’s devotion to Padmasambhava was so strong that, one night in 1757 while engaged in a solitary retreat, he entered a deep meditative state after crying passionately because he was not in Guru Rinpoche’s presence. In a state of luminous clarity, he experienced himself flying a great distance on the back of a white lion. He arrived at the Bodhnath Stupa in Nepal and was met by a wisdom dakini who gave him a small, beautiful casket before vanishing. Inside were five rolls of yellow paper with dakini script as well as seven crystal beads. At the urging of another dakini, Jigme Lingpa swallowed the rolls of paper and the crystal beads. When he returned from his state of Ultimate Union (sungjuk), he understood that the Longchen (Great Expanse) Nyingthig (Heart Essence) teachings and realizations, entrusted to him many lifetimes earlier by Guru Rinpoche, had reawakened in his mindstream.

Om svabhava shudda sarva dharma svabhava shuddo ham.

Om So  Bawa 002

All Dharmas are pure in nature and I am pure in nature.

Several years later, Jigme Lingpa had three pure visions of Longchenpa. In the first vision, he received the transmission of both the words and meaning of Longchenpa’s teachings. In the second vision, he received the blessing of Longchenpa’s speech and was empowered to propagate his teachings. The final vision imparted to Jigme Lingpa the vast wisdom mind of Longchenpa and the vast power of his enlightened awareness: Longchen Nyingthig.

Seven years would pass before Jigme Lingpa passed the sadhanas to students. Rigdzin Dupa: The Assemblage of Vidyadharas (Eight Enlightened Masters), Yumka Dechen Gyalmo: The Queen of Great Bliss (Yeshe Tsogyal), and Senge Dongchen: The Lion Faced Dakini form the foundation practices of these powerful teachings. Padmasambhava/Guru Rinpoche lives in these practices — his mind, his power, his Pure Vision — available to all those who receive the empowerment and verbal transmission to practice from authorized teachers in the Longchen Nyingthig lineage.

Book cover for Blessing Power of the BuddhasHidden Teachings of Tibet 001

Many wonderful and learned books have been written about Guru Rinpoche/Padmasambhava. Tulku Thondup Rinpoche is an authority on the Longchen Nyingthig. In addition to Hidden Teachings of Tibet he translated the two Longchen Nyingthig texts pictured above, The Queen of Great Bliss and The  Assemblage of Vidyadharas.Dilgo Khyentse 001 Also, Blessing Power of the Buddhas: Sacred Objects, Secret Lands by Norma Levine provides a refreshing overview of Guru Rinpoche’s power within the context of real life adventures. Norma Levine knew nothing of Buddhism in the early 1970’s when she was traveling to Northern Scotland to visit a friend. She stopped over at Samye Ling, the first Dharma Center in the West founded by Akong Rinpoche and Chögyam Trungpa. Her “overnight” coincided with the first visit to the West by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a giant (literally) of the Nyingma lineage. She stayed for two months, never made it to Northern Scotland, and figuratively never left Samye Ling.

Khenchen Palden Sherab (1938-2010) and his brother Tulku Tsewang Dongyal (born 1950), from the Kham region of Tibet, have been tireless and ever-cheerful teachers. Their father, Chime Namgyal, was also a Lama. Therein lies the great strength of the Nyingma family. Together they founded Padmasambhava Buddhist Center in the Catskills of New York with centers worldwide. The many books they authored together form the greatest single body of properly assembled works available to Western students. The Dark Red Amulet on the Vajrakilaya practice exemplifies excellence in Dharma. The sadhana, its history and lineage is introduced. Then line by line, with the Tibetan text and transliteration, the practice is explained. The entire sadhana is then given at the end of the book.

Lions Gaze 001Garab Dorje is the first human teacher in the Dzogchen lineage. He brought the teachings from the pure lands and transmitted them to Manjushrimitra and Padmasambhava. Garab Dorje’s classic text Tsig Sum Nedek — The Three Words that Strike the Crucial Point is presented by Khenchen Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal in Lion’s Gaze. The brothers present teachings on both Garab Dorje’s text and Patrul Rinpoche’s commentary, The Special Teachings of the Wise and Glorious Sovereign. Patrul was a student of Jigme Gyalwe Nyugu, a direct disciple of Jigme Lingpa, and from him received original transmission of the Longchen Nyingthig.

The portal from the East opened Westward in San Francisco. Two East Coast writers literally blasted the door from its hinges. On Thursday, October 13, 1955, Allen Ginsberg read Howl at The Six Gallery in San Francisco. Words reshaped reality. America hasn’t been the same since. Kerouac portrayed the event in The Dharma Bums.

          Anyway, I followed the whole gang of howling poets to the reading at the Gallery Six that night, which was, among other important things, the night of the birth of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. Everyone was there. It was a mad night. And I was theHowl - film 001 one who got things jumping by going around collecting dimes and quarters from the rather stiff audience standing around the gallery and coming back with three huge gallon jugs of California Burgundy and getting them all piffed so that by eleven o’clock when Alvah Goldbook was reading, wailing his poem “Wail” drunk with arms outspread everybody was yelling “Go! Go! Go!” (like a jam session) — The Dharma Bums

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of City Lights Books and himself an excellent poet — A Coney Island of the MInd — was in the San Francisco audience the night of Allen Ginsberg’s reading. Recognizing Allen’s brilliance and inspired by what he heard, Ferlinghetti decided to publish the poem. Over fifty years later, a feature film, Howl, was made about the event. It includes portions of Allen’s poem which are set to animation. The film is an excellent portrayal and highly recommended.

I was able to hear a reading of Howl myself when I attended the Last Happening of the Sixties at Miami Marine Stadium, December 22, 1969. Allen Ginsberg decided at the last minute to add his father, Louis, also a poet, to his scheduled reading. Miami city officials, still reeling from the effects of a Doors concert earlier in the year when Jim Morrison reportedly exposed himself, refused permission.

Allen was fuming when the reading started. I was among the chilly members of the audience, my own psyche reeling from the death of my mother a year earlier and the Woodstock Festival in August. Howl spoke to me that night, and Allen gave a memorable reading. When he launched into a poem about the Czechoslovakia police state, the stadium manager had heard enough and announced the reading was over. Not for Allen, though. When he didn’t stop, the manager cut the power to Allen’s microphone and turned the stadium lights on full. Jeremiah railed on, screaming. With the music piping in over the sound system finally drowning him out, Allen left the stage to a standing ovation.

A few months later, I was back in Lawrence, Kansas, and not attending my classes at KU. Vietnam was no longer an option. My birth date had received a high number in the first draft lottery. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was in town to do a reading. I went with my friend George Kimball, himself a writer and friend of Ginsberg’s. After the reading, Ferlinghetti agreed to come with us to The White House, the notorious hippie house a block from the campus where George and I lived with a crazy collection of smokers, yogis and dealers. A coterie of Ferlinghetti fans accompanied us. We sat in a circle in the largest room — on the floor, orange crates, rocking chairs and a double bed. The house’s ever present marijuana supply was passing freely. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare . . . I don’t know who started chanting . . . it was de rigueur for the times.

Suddenly, on my left George Kimball sailed a tin of Bugle Boy Tobacco, barely missing the blonde across the room seated on the floor next to Ferlinghetti. “What was that for?” The group demanded in unison. “She was off key,” George replied. The party ended on that sour note. Within minutes the crowd was gone. That same year George was defeated in his run for Douglas County sheriff. He later moved to Boston and became an award-winning sports journalist for the Boston Globe.

Decades later, Kerouac’s and Ginsber’s contributions, beyond the literary, have liberated our thought stream and opened our doors of perception. The Beat Explosion wasn’t about wine and sex, just as Woodstock wasn’t about drugs and music. Words made the difference. Writing for the moment, they wrote us all into a new time.

          Carried by the natural rhythms of thought and speech, and the mind’s capacity to mock the rhythm of what it thinks about–driven mostly, in this case, by the staccato beat of freight trains–some of Kerouac’s sentences roll on for a whole page. — Gerald Nicosia

Jack Kerouac gave us the holiness of the everyday moment. Myriad works have been naked-angels by john-tytellwritten on his life and writing. John Tytell, Professor of English at Queens College (CUNY) wrote a classic study of the works of Kerouac, Ginsberg and William Burroughs. It’s an excellent read for fans of these authors.

In The Dharma Bums, Kerouac dramatized a crucial shift in the Beat sensibility: instead of continuing to seek escape from boredom and the spiritually corrupting emphasis on materialism and careers through desperate activity, Kerouac began an inward search for new roots. The Dharma Bums replaces the hysteria of On The Road with a quietly contemplative retreat toward meditation. — from NAKED ANGELS: The Lives and Loves of the Beat Generation by John Tytell

Of the Kerouac biographies, I found The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac by Joyce Johnson to be the most readable and informed source for Jack’s life and vision leading to On The Road. The author’s insights are authentic. She had a two year relationship with Kerouac and was with him the day the New York Times Book Review of On The Road legitimized his struggles. Memory Babe by Gerald Nicosia is amazing. Herein is contained not only every inning, but every pitch of Jack’s troubled life. Mr. Nicosia is to be commended for his efforts. On the Road: The Official Movie Companion is another must for Kerouac fans.

The Voice is All 001Thinking about his months away from home, he reminded himself in emotional language that sounds directly translated from his French thoughts, “I hope, little madam, that you realize that destination is not really a tape at the end of a straight-way racing course, but that it is a tape on an oval that you must break over and over again as you race madly around.” —  From The Voice is All.

Jack Kerouac died on October 21st, 1969 in St. Petersburg, Florida after a lifetime of alcohol abuse. He was 47 years old.

On the Road - movie companion 001

KAGYU IMAGES: The Lion’s Roar

Sukhasiddhi                                                                   Niguma

Sukhasiddhi 001Niguma 001

Rangdrol 001The Kagyu (Lineage of Transmitted Mastery) began with the songs of Dakini’s calling to Tilopa one thousand years ago. Thus began a remarkable odyssey transmitted from Master to Disciple unto this present age. The teachings of the dakini, revealing the nature of mind, are couched in their secret speech: ‘secret’ in the sense of self-secret, naturally discreet, because it only makes sense to those sufficiently awakened to understand. Their discrete terms reveal jnana, the bright lamp of essence-awareness which automatically dispels the darkness of ignorance. — from TILOPA by Tai Situ Rinpoche, perhaps the ultimate Dakini Realm instruction manual, published by Kagyu Samye Ling, Eskdalemuir, Scotland, the first Tibetan Buddhist center in the West.

Kalu - Karmapa - Trungpa 001Three remarkable Kagyu Masters ushered the Dharma westward in the twentieth century. Kalu Rinpoche, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and Chögyam Trungpa.

Jamgon Kontrul 001Situ Rinpoche 001Two Heart Sons followed close behind. Jamgon Kongtrul and Tai Situ Rinpoche have forged close bonds with Western students. Bringing traditional teachings along with a strong command of Enlish these teachers have assured the survival of Tilopa’s legacy.

Dusu, Khyempa - 17th Karmapa 001Today the Kagyu Lineage is identified with Karmapa, the Black Hat Lama. The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa pictured above on the left was one of three wild yogis who studied under Gampopa, who instituted the monastic tradition that exists to this day. Dusum Khyenpa and his companions were expelled for consuming alcohol and dancing wildly in celebration of a Dakini festival. Gampopa realized his most talented students had been expelled by the master of discipline when he saw the birds flying away from his monastery and the dakas and dakinis departing. He left his retreat cave and chased after the three yogis imploring them to stay.

Dusum Khyenpa 001Dusum Khyenpa eventually became known as Karmapa, Knower of the Three Times, Man of Action. Many miraculous events are associated with Dusum Khyenpa but none more incredible than the letter he left detailing where he would be reborn. Thus Karma Pakshi became the first incarnate lama in Tibet. This sequence has repeated itself now seventeen times. Before Rangjung Rigpe Dorje died in 1981 he left an amulet with Tai Situ Rinpoche. The prediction letter within the amulet led to the discovery of Orgyen Trinley Dorje born in Tibet in 1985.

KarmapakshiThe Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, above, born in 1204, set the standard for intensive mystical mastery we expect of Karmapas. Caught between the demands of conflicting Chinese rulers, Karmapakshi was forced to drink poison, thrown off a cliff and into flames by Kublai Khan. Each time he emerged unharmed forcing the Emperor to recognize his ultimate nobility. While in China he arranged for a giant Buddha statue to be constructed at his monastery, Tsurphu near Lhasa. Upon his return to Tibet he discovered the statue was leaning to one side. He sat in meditation in front of it and, imitating the statue, he leaned to the side. As he slowly righted himself, the statue straightened along with him. (photo by Lawrence Birney)

BELOW – 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso w/ 16th Karmapa (left) & 17th Karmapa (right)

16th Karmapa & Dalai Lama 00117th Karmapa - Dalai Lama 001

Karmapa 16 & 17 001The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and the 17th, Orgyen Trinley Dorje.

Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche, a great and wonderful teacher of the Dharma (below), of Kham, Tibet with the 17th Karmapa. Sangye Tenzin was a veritable wellspring of information and inspiration to all those who came in contact with him. He shone with a genuine desire that all of his students truly ‘get it’, that we appreciate the wish fulfilling gift which he was bestowing on us. His presence was a Rain of Blessing.


The most pronounced quality of the Kagyu is the relationship between students and master which is passed on from one lifetime to the next, each recognizing the other. Situ & Karmapa 001Tai Situ (far reaching, unshakeable) Rinpoche is the root lama of the Karmapa. He was the one given the letter by Rangjung Rikpe Dorje that led to the discovery of the 17th Karmapa. Here they are shortly after their reunion in a wonderful photo from Ken Holmes’ book Karmapa that details the entire chain of events. Ken is a long time student of the Karmapa and Situ Rinpoche and has lived and taught at Samye Ling in Scotland for many years. He has edited the classic books by Situ Rinpoche published there. He and his wife Katia have also translated Dharma texts.

Situ & Kalu 001Kalu Rinpoche, a meditation master who lived from 1905 to 1989, was instrumental in training many young incarnate lamas. After studying under the 11th Situ Rinpoche, Padma Wangchuk, he helped train the current Situ Rinpoche, Pema Donyo Nyingche Wangmo. They are shown here together shortly after the Tibetan diaspora in 1959. Kalu Rinpoche spent many years in solitary retreat in the Himalayas before the Karmapa asked him to visit the West and teach the Dharma. Homage to Kalu Rinpoche 001He first established a traditional three year retreat program in France. His life story is well told in The Chariot for Travelling the Path to Freedom by Ken McLeod. The drawings of Tilopa and the dakinis Sukhasiddhi and Niguma are from this book which is a must have for Kalu Rinpoche students. Homage to Khyab Je Kalu Rinpoche published by Lama Lodu and KDK Publications in San Francisco is another must. The wonderful photo of Kalu Rinpoche, the Karmapa and Chögyam Trungpa is from this book.

Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche was born September 17, 1990. He was recognized by Situ Rinpoche and made his first visit to the United States in 1995.Bokar & Kalu 001 I was part of the welcoming party when he arrived at Kennedy Airport with his former student, then teacher, Bokar Rinpoche. I had met the previous Kalu Rinpoche and received one empowerment from him. My faith in Situ Rinpoche was complete, but I was apprehensive meeting the new Kalu Rinpoche. After all, we were there to welcome a four year old boy. This was my first experience meeting a young tulku. When they walked through customs the hairs on my arm stood on end. I realized that THIS ACTUALLY WAS KALU RINPOCHE. Kalu & Bokar dancing 001

No experience to date can match that for confirming the authenticity of Vajrayana teachings. The next month was magical. Bokar Rinpoche gave many teachings and transmissions from the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, and we also shared Kalu Rinpoche’s joy at having a fresh young body. Since the previous Kalu Rinpoche had projected such a stern exterior, albeit with an inner radiance and glow, this new incarnation was a fresh bloom on the rose. (Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche photos by my friend and construction collaborator, Steve Petty from Salt Spring Island.)

Bokar & Kalu marmekan 001In 2011, Kalu Rinpoche visited the United States for the first time since completing his formal training. Unfortunately, he chose not to visit New York. Therefore many devoted students who were closely connected to the previous Kalu Rinpoche were unable to see him during that visit. Hopefully, he will return to the US soon and give teachings in New York at his monastery or anywhere else that he feels is appropriate. In fact, I extend an invitation to teach at my home anytime he would like.

Trungpa 001

Chögyam Trungpa was a phenomenon. Arriving at Cambridge University from India in the mid-sixties, he perfected his English, learned Western psychology and mastered the culture. After founding Samye Ling in Scotland with Akong Rinpoche he moved on to America, and we are so thankful that he did. Trungpa was a tireless teacher until his death in 1987. He authored close to thirty books which have had a wide impact in introducing Vajrayana to the West. His first book BORN IN TIBET was published in 1966. I read it in the early 70’s. It set me on (as of now) a forty year cascade through the most powerful mental training system on the planet.

The lion’s roar is fearlessness in the sense that every situation in life is workable. Nothing is rejected as bad or grasped as good. But everything we experience in our life-situations, any type of emotion, is workable. From THE MYTH OF FREEDOM.

DRAGON THUNDER: My Life With Chögyam Trungpa by Diana Mukpo, his wife of nearly twenty years, is one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time. This is an entertaining view behind the roller coaster carnival of Trungpa’s life. DRAGON THUNDER IS A MUST READ! Chögyam Trungpa: His Life and Vision by Fabrice Midal offers a thoughtful and complete review of Trungpa’s work.

Shambhala was an enlightened society that manifested nonagression. Its geographical location was in the middle of Asia, in the middle, or the heart, of the Orient. The Shambhala society was able to transmute aggression into love. Consequently, everybody in Shambhala attained enlightenment. So they no longer needed to domesticate their animals, and they no longer needed to fight wars. Finally, the whole society, the whole country — including all the buildings — ceased to exist on the earthly plane. This is the story of Shambhala. — Chögyam Trungpa from Midal’s book.

Above all, Trungpa championed the ideal of Shambhala and presented it to the West. fShambhala is a Pure Land, a beyul, the home of the sacred Kalachakra teachings, the Highest Tantra vehicle. In a novel written with my wife Angelina, the  Shambhala teachings are highlighted through a fictional journey which explores their current need in creating peace in the world. PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation encourages a closer look at the spiritual forces that infuse the world’s political battles.

Trungpa’s genius manifested itself in many ways, but none more impressive or lasting than the creation of Naropa University in 1974. Today it is a thriving liberal arts college boasting among other accomplishments, The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The university was named after Naropa, who was the illustrious abbot of Nalanda in eleventh century India. After an encounter with a powerful Dakini, Naropa recognized his knowledge was useless without wisdom. The Dakini empowered Naropa to seek her brother Tilopa who straightens Naropa out, so to speak.

Our story began with Tilopa, or rather with the Dakini’s call to Tilopa. Feminine Wisdom is mother of the Buddhas. Without the discrete terms of the dakini, teachings revealing mind, the lamp of essence awareness dispelling ignorance’s darkness, known of itself, occurring by itself and lucid in itself cannot be recognized — From Situ Rinpoche’s TILOPA as is the calligraphy below.discrete terms of dakini 001Tilopa’s Kagyu oral transmission lineage sprang from the discrete terms of the Dakini, Mahamudra, The Great Seal, Wisdom Beyond Knowledge. The punishing apprenticeship he put Naropa through is the stuff of legend. Naropa passed his lineage on to Marpa who carried the teaching to Tibet, he himself undertook three arduous  journeys to India to obtain his treasures. Milarepa, the poet-yogi, earned his mantle through another epic apprenticeship. Gampopa, guru to Dusum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa, studied under Milarepa.

Tilopa’s teachings are summed up in The Ganges Mahamudra, which he emparted to Naropa on the banks of the great river. There are numerous commentaries and translations of this root text but my favorite is found in MOTHER OF THE BUDDHAS by Lex Hixon. Hixon was a great contributor to our modern spiritual dialogue. Born on Christmas Day 1941, he began his studies with Vine Deloria, a Lakota Sioux elder, at the age of nineteen. Six years later he began studying with Swami Nikhilananda, a disciple of Sarada Devi, Ramakrishna’s wife. Hixon’s epic work on Ramakrishna, GREAT SWAN, is brilliant. It is always worth recalling Ramakrishna, as his life in nineteenth century Bengal is an open mirror to Tilopa’s eleventh century India.

Mother of the Buddhas 001Great Swan 001The dedicated practitioner experiences the spiritual way as a turbulent mountain stream, tumbling dangerously among boulders. When maturity is reached the river flows smoothly and patiently with the powerful sweep of the Ganges.  Emptying into the ocean of Mahamudra, the water becomes ever-expanding light that pours into great Clear Light – without direction, destination, division, distinction or description.  Tilopa – Mother of the Buddhas.

The Kagyu lineage web has been spun by generations of students standing upon the shoulders of their teachers, who in turn became the students in their next life. A story line like this could only continue with the ability to identify these departed masters upon their return.

Jamgon Kontrul - 16 Karmapa 001The third Jamgon Kongtrul, pictured at left with the 16th Karmapa, was universally loved by all who met him. I had the great honor of taking the Kalachakra and Shitro empowerments from him. His death in 1992, at the height of the search for the 17th Karmapa, was a shock to the entire Vajrayana community.

There is no more serious task for any Karmapa than orchestrating the search mission for incarnate lamas. In 1996 the 17th Karmapa informed representatives of Pullahari Monastery that he had information concerning the rebirth of Jamgon Kongtrul. At the moment the Karmapa handed over the letter containing his instructions, there was a single clap of thunder. The Karmapa himself was only eleven years old at that time!

The Karmapa indicated that the 4th Jamgon Kongtrul would be found south of Tsurphu, the E MA HO 001Karmapa’s seat in Tibet. In his exercise book he drew some pictures of the mountains, a river and the house (two storeys with the door facing exactly east) where he would be found.  The Karmapa also mentioned by name several nearby villages and the number of persons in the family (eight). He even informed them of the most auspicious day to begin their search, several months hence. Even so, there were difficulties with the search and the party had to return to Tsurphu for clarification. Perhaps, their faith in an untested eleven year old Karmapa was shaky. The Karmapa seemed to toy with them and merely repeated his instructions. On their return to the area, the group found the fourth Jamgon Kongtrul. The entire story can be found online in E MA HO.

Karmapa & Jamgon 001

(left) The Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje and the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul, Karma Lodro Chokyi Nyima in 1996. Jamgon Kongtrul today and Tai Situ Rinpoche (above).

As Tilopa promised, the Kagyu lineage will continue to bring a great deal of both temporal and ultimate benefit to the world.

Om Soti 001

Read Rolling Stone

I bought my first copy of ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE in London the last week of January 1969, the same week the Beatles performed for the last time together on the Abbey Road studio rooftop. On a newsrack along with SPY the Rolling Stone name jumped out. I bought it, but have no memory of what was inside, or even my own impressions. That was after all the same week my friend Bruce and I saw HAIR on stage and my life changed forever.

But Rolling Stone has continued to chronicle the culture in which my emotional petrie dish has morphed from hopeful amazement to cynic contempt and now back to hopeful amazement.

My generation will, no is, changing the world. Against the Vietnam windmills slowly turning with the Kissinger fumes of Nixonian paranoia Hunter Thompson chronicled a hilarious hipster assault on logic. I remember laughing aloud at the accounts of Nixon’s campaign train rolling through Florida with this out-of-control drug ninja destroying reason. His early articles became FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS.

History was made again in one of the most significant scoops in American publishing history. Karen Silkwood was a chemical technician and a labor activist at an Oklahoma nuclear power plant who blew the whistle on their unsafe and illegal safety measures, shortly before becoming contaminating with plutonium and dying in a car accident. In a 12,000-word article from 1977, Howard Kohn argued she was murdered.

jann wennerNamed after a famed Muddy Waters song Jann Wenner published the first issue of Rolling Stone in November 1967 with $7,500 borrowed from his family. To this day, he and the magazine remain the counter culture gold standard of what we may achieve by remaining true to out inner tune, our own celestial I Tune calling us home. Like Woodstock its not just about the music, although, Ralph J. Gleason has chronicled that aspect admirably.

Sadly through all these years the American war machine has been a steady presence. In 2011 Rolling Stone made journalistic news once again with Michael Hastings scathing portrayal of General Stanley McChrystal, The Runaway General. The story led to McChrystal’s firing and a book, THE OPERATORS which is one of several must read accounts of the absolute idiocy in which America has latched itself to the Afghanistan tar baby at the expense of our nations economic treasure and emotional sanity. LITTLE AMERICA by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Jon Krakauer’s excellent account of Pat Tillman, WHERE MEN WIN GLORY, tell personal stories against the larger backdrop of national savagery and waste. The Operators 001

War is and remains the greatest evil, and he who has understood the meaning of Christ and his Gospel of human and Christian brotherhood can never detest it enough. Angelo Roncalli, September 9, 1920 – Almost forty years later to become Pope John XXIII

America was firmly set on the lunatic path of gun worship with the Civil War, national Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ensued from which we have not recovered. Nor will recovery be easy. Rolling Stone is uniquely positioned with its credibility with younger and older audiences to step into this breach.

They sell us the President the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us everything from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars
I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight or to die
And there are lives in the balance –

America began its war persona early. The Mexican War was Ulysses S. Grant’s first. He was not in favor of James Polk’s blatant expansionist expedition. “I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war which resulted as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

Ulysses Grant 001In 1846 he wrote his wife, Julia, “I begin to think like one of our captains who said that if he were the Government he would whip Mexico until they would be content to take the Sabine for their boundary and he would make them take the Texans with it,” from THE MAN WHO SAVED THE UNION: ULYSSES GRANT IN WAR AND PEACE. Like all of H. W. Brands’ books this one is excellent, well written with heretofore unheard nuggets. Sam Grant remains, alongside Lincoln and FDR, one of America’s brightest lights, A Great, Great man. Contrast his earnest, low key dedication to his troops and the cause for which they fought with David Petraeus who actually showed up at a Washington party after becoming CIA chief in civilian clothes with all his military medals pinned to his suit jacket. As General McCauliffe replied to a German request for his surrender when he commanded the 101st Airborne at the Battle of the Bulge, “NUTS.”

Matt Taibi’s July 2009 article “The Great American Bubble Machine” summed up Goldman Sachs and the monetary financial machine as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” This quote became America’s outpouring of our subliminal response to the arrogant, out of control greed which characterizes Wall Street, and for which the criminals have yet to pay a price.

Now Rolling Stone has waded forward into one of the greatest causes for which every spiritual activist must stand firm — Women of Faith against little men with no faith and less vision. This battle has no boundaries, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism all share this problem.

In the November 22, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone Mark Minelli, with a great illustration by John Ritter recounts The Sisters Crusade against the Vatican.The Sisters Crusade 001

The Sisters Crusade 2 001In the 2012 Presidential campaign many of us found ourselves fascinated by Simone Campbell  and her Nuns on a Bus crusade. Sister Campbell, Executive Director of Network, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby has also been been Director of her community The Sisters of Social Services. With a law degree from UC-Davis, Campbell spent 18 years as the lead attorney for the Community Law Center in Oakland, California.  Her battle for Obamacare against American Bishops led to a memorable speaking slot on prime time at the recent Democratic National Convention.
Pope John XXIII 001How did it come to this? In 1962 I visited the Vatican for the first time as a child. Never before had I seen such a massive structure as St. Peter’s Basilica, a church that sold stamps and seemingly everything else in a great, crass, shameless display of a tourist economy. But how to explain the huge stadium style bleachers inside the church? The answer was Vatican II. John XXIII opened the doors of the Vatican to allow the heart of Christ to re-enter a cranky, male only club where social compassion was seldom spoken. “He showed His concern for the material welfare of his people when, seeing the hungry crowd of His followers, He was moved to explain: ‘I have compassion on the multitude.’ An these were no empty words . . . “ From Mater et Magistra, Mother and Teacher, John XXIII’s encyclical of 1961 which set the stage for  massive three year review of Church policy, Vatican II.
The definitive biography of Angelo Roncalli, POPE JOHN XXIII: Shehperd of the Modern World, was written by Peter Hebblethwaite. This is a wonderful, easy to read book, with lots of referenced to the ongoing Catholic dialogues from his birth in 1881 until his death in 1963.
John XXIII - paper 001Angelo Roncalli was elected pope in 1958 and in four and a half years, through summoning the Second Vatican Council and putting in hand a major revision of the Code of Canon Law. Through his personality and teachings, and his initiatives with world leaders, he gave the papacy a new vision and set before the Catholic Church a new version of its mission to the world. Today many people throughout the world see Pope John XXIII as one of the twentieth century’s most loved and influential figures. From the back cover of the paperback edition, JOHN XXIII: Pope of the Century. Unfortunately, for this edition the font was changed, reducing the page count from 504 to 258. This makes reading the paperback an unpleasant experience. I suggest buying a used hardcover from Amazon.
James Carrroll, a former priest and author of CONSTANTINE’S SWORD: THE CHURCH AND THE JEWS – A HISTORY, reviewed Vatican II in an op-ed in the Boston Globe on the 50th anniversary of the councils opening in October 2012.
For all of Catholicism’s triumphs in America after World War II, the faith was in trouble. . . Roman Catholicism had yet to face up to its complicity in the fascisms of Italy, Spain and various Latin American dictatorships, while the Vatican’s failure to openly oppose Adolf Hitler’s assault on Jews still haunted the Catholic conscience. . .
In books and articles over the years, I have often praised Pope John XXIII. But never has his unpredicted arrival on the Catholic scene held more significance than it does right now, when church authorities have returned to insisting that, in matters of faith and morals, Catholicism bears a God-given mandate never to change. . .
Ever since the Crusades, Catholicism has fervently preached of one war after another that “God wills it”, and the tradition underscored the church’s belligerent Cold War condemnation of communism. But now Pope John questioned the morality of America’s nuclear arsenal,and his council began the astounding transformation of Catholicism into a peace church. . .
Imagine if the other great reform movements of the 1960’s had been rolled back. The civil-rights campaign, feminism, the peace movement, and environmental awareness have all transformed our culture. But the most profound religious transformation of the time was cut short, with implications far beyond Catholicism. Membership in the church, especially in Europe and America, has hemorrhaged. The moral authority of the Catholic hierarchy has been gutted. Priests, at best, evoke pity. Nuns upholding Vatican II are targeted by inquisitors. The magnificent Roman Catholic Church, a millennial font of reasoned faith and aesthetic genius, is on the road to becoming yet another fundamentalist cult. . .
The Pope's War 001James Carroll is not alone in his bleak reflections on the state of the Vatican State. Matthew Fox, a noted theologian was forbidden to teach theology in 1988 by Joseph Ratzinger and eventually dismissed from the Dominican Order. His criticism of Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI is scathing. Sentimentalism is everywhere integral to Ratzinger’s spiritual sentiment. But, as Ann Douglas has revealed in her weighty study on the subject, the essence of sentimentalism is ‘rancid political consciousness.” Sentimentalism is feeling without care for justice. Nazi concentration camp hierarchy would torture prisoners during the day and return home at night and weep listening to Beethoven. “Scratch a sentimentalist and you find a violent person,” Carl Jung warned. Lurking behind sentimentalism is pent-up rage. Ratzinger whenever he can substitutes the word “charity” for the word “justice.” THE POPE’S WAR
The Good Pope 001THE POPE’S WAR is not only a view on the Ratzinger Papacy but a truly Christian appraisal of the steps that must be taken to place Christ back at the heart of Christianity. The war on Christmas is real and its being waged by misogynist religious leaders wearing Cardinal’s hats, skull caps and Buddhist robes. It is time to take our faith and place it in the hands of feminine priest, lamas and rabbis. There once was a GOOD POPE, there will be again.