Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
A writer named Peter Kingsley has been making waves recently in some parts of the Integral community -- particularly his book, A Story Waiting to Pierce You: Mongolia, Tibet and the Destiny of t.... When I first heard about him awhile back, I checked out an online video interview with him -- which I'll try to locate later -- and was not very impressed by what I heard, as I recall, but I thought I'd share his work here for anyone who might be interested. From what I've gathered so far, his main thesis is that we have all but lost touch with the "original," mystical, "feminine" foundations of Western civilization, which he traces to the work of Parmenides -- and, beyond him, to Mongolia and Tibet --, and Kingsley's work is about retracing and reclaiming that link.
Here's a link to a brief article on this: The Spiritual Tradition at the Roots of Western Civilization.
And here's more info on his latest book (from his website):
A Story Waiting To Pierce You offers a breathtaking insight into our past and our future as human beings. For the first time in centuries it traces the ancient threads that connect Mongolia, Tibet and Native Americans to the very origins of western civilization -- showing how these sacred ties have shaped our lives today.
This remarkable book tells, with haunting simplicity and precision, the true story of where our western culture really came from and where it is taking us now.
"A true encanto, an incantation, this book is pure music. It sings to the reader. This is the real thing. In each paragraph of the book, the Spirit is there. This is what the native people of the Americas have been trying to say, but were never permitted to. This song is the song of wisdom that we native people have not been allowed to sing."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ From the Foreword by Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)
"A wondrous love of wisdom is building inside us. Let this book wake you up into new sunlight: into feeling again the ecstatic wholeness of being alive on this planet, the soul-joy of walking, of reading books (see the astonishing Notes to this text: a great, Nabokovian exuberance), of giving attention to whatever wants to come next, the beauty and the mystery. It is not just a book, and so to be read with the mind. Peter Kingsley's voice is a friend, and also a way of seeing, of remembering essence, of walking in a great circle around an island you have always loved, but only rarely visited."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Coleman Barks
"The rich and dense scholarship in this book is admirable, nay incredible, with worldwide scope. Scholarly discussion depends on evidence -- of which A Story Waiting to Pierce You offers the most surprising riches, combined with overwhelming expertise."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Prof. Walter Burkert
"In this profoundly erudite and eloquent book is a startling ancient secret that will forever alter the way we think about the origins of western civilization."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Pir Zia Inayat Khan
"A Story Waiting to Pierce You is, simply, piercing. Peter Kingsley is a master of adamantine prose and peerless scholarship. His work is truly worthy of that overworked term wisdom. And he is a master stylist: he turns you upside down and inside out without your knowing it is happening. This book will inspire, delight and enlighten many but will also challenge others because it is a mirror that reflects our most stubborn prejudices about the origins of our most sacrosanct cultural beliefs. And for that, Peter Kingsley deserves the highest praise."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Larry Dossey, M.D.
"A blazingly alive work of scholarship and spiritual insight."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Prof. Jacob Needleman
"By challenging some of our most fundamental perceptions of early European history, Peter Kingsley pushes out the horizon of the modern world and opens a new chapter in our appreciation of European-Asian relations. His innovative research into the spiritual and intellectual debt of ancient Greece to Inner Asia not only broadens our understanding of the past, but also helps us to understand better who we are today."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Prof. Jack Weatherford
"I have read A Story Waiting to Pierce You with tremendous fascination. It is a unique work -- a captivating and enlightening book which I heartily recommend to anyone with an interest in Eurasian history."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Prof. Victor Mair
"Peter Kingsley is more than a master storyteller. He is a magician who reveals the golden thread of truth which makes its way through time and space, secretly holding the fabric of our world together. A Story Waiting to Pierce You reveals the surprisingly mystical origins, and purpose, of western culture as well as what it means to participate in its eternal unfolding right now."
"This is a book of miracles -- deceptively simple, actively profound. It is a core story of human becoming, the secret history that holds the codes to what we are and what we yet may be."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Jean Houston
"This is a small book. I suggest that you read it several times and really get the golden idea at its core. Then bring that idea to everything you do -- every decision, every choice, every plan, every interpretation. Live by an entirely different guidance. Walk like you've never walked before."
ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Thomas Moore
Thanks for introducing me to Peter Kingsley, I'll read the article you linked to when I can.
As for the two reviews you cited, I enjoyed the first, and going to the reviewer Mathew Fox's site had me engrossed reading about his new book "THE POPE’S WAR: WHY RATZINGER’S SECRET CRUSADE HAS IMPERILED THE CHURCH AND HOW IT CAN BE SAVED" -- I think that deserves a thread on its own merits. However, reading the second "review" left me wondering if it amounts to anything more than flaming/trolling/trashing someone because they and their admirers are Christian, and therefore seemingly antithetical by default to the reviewer, who obviously counts himself as one of the Pagans "...who are interested in genuinely reconnecting with the spiritual traditions that Christianity has spent the last 17 centuries trying to extirpate.."
Yes, I agree about the latter review. In fact, both reviews seem to have their own ideological investments -- the first, towards a mystical (and rather anti-academic) worldview, and the other towards a pagan (and rather anti-Christian) worldview.
Given the strong feelings Kingsley's work is evoking, on both sides, I am intrigued by his book, and plan to try to pick it up sometime and read it. My own personal "practice" inclinations are in line with those traditions he's emphasizing (contemplative and shamanistic, which were emphasized with my Bon training), so I feel sympathetic to aspects of his story (from what I understand of it so far), but I am still rather suspicious at this point whether his thesis will hold up historically, and I've noticed also that his personal interpretation of mystical experience seems to be metaphysical in the sense we often critique here on IPS (see the video linked at the bottom of my opening post).
Interesting. So what's the purported "connection" with Mongolia and Tibet? Is it some historical link via a supposed "shamanism" that lays at the base of the Greek tradition, or some trans-historical perennialist-experientialist notion that Western monism is "the same" as Asian non-dualism because they both "intuit" the same animal while immersed in their respective "deep trances"?
Yes, here's another clue to his thesis (though I think he also does include some "perennialist" reasoning in his approach). This is from Ruiz's review, linked on Kingsley's site:
Kingsley shows how Hyperborea, homeland of Abaris, can be identified with the areas of Asia now known to us as Mongolia and Tibet. Abaris himself, as many scholars have recognized, “has the makings and markings of a shaman -- of one of those strange, uncontrollable healers and mystics found across the world but especially familiar in the areas around Siberia and Central Asia” (4). Kingsley draws out, elaborates and explains these “makings and markings” through an ingenious re-reading of the Greek source material on Abaris. Most striking are the perfect parallels he finds between this material and well-documented shamanic and Tibetan Buddhist practices.
His scholarship is surprisingly straightforward. He simply looks where most modern classicists wouldn’t think of looking -— to the concrete worlds of anthropology and ethnography; to the archaeology and religious history of Asia. Abaris’ meeting with Pythagoras, often dismissed by scholars who know no better as nothing but a literary fiction, is in fact one of history’s greatest recognition scenes. And as Kingsley is able to show, it was tremendously important for both men. This intimate connection between Pythagoras and an ecstatic purifier, wonderworker and prophet, a shaman from Central Asia, sheds light on the many aspects of Pythagorean tradition that, as a few scholars have noticed for a long time, are clearly shamanic.2 It is difficult to overstate the importance of Pythagoras for Western civilization. Even among the other Presocratics, founding heroes of our Western world, he was a figure apart. He is justly regarded as “a culture-creator, a shaper of civilization, as originator of the word ‘philosophy’”(47). Pythagoras and the mystical tradition that he helped to inspire stand at the roots of the West.
Scholars have know about versions of the thesis that some of the iotromantes had shamanistic traits. Dodds mentions them in The Greeks and the Irrational, and so does Burkert in his study of Pythagoreanism. Some of these iotromantes were apparently were skywalkers" and practiced some sort of "out of body" remote viewing kinda thing akin to shabda yoga (eckankar) of what is called pho-wa in Tibet, but more "primitive." The Keshins, shaiva dudes who grew their hair long, took some psychoactive compound and "rode the winds looking down from above." The eckstatic iotromantes would have probably been more akin to them.
I've always wondered though: why does this necessary have to come from outside Greece?Why can't it be native? OBE's seem to be a universal experience. There seems to be a stereotyped bias here that assumes that the West could never have come up with this sort of thing.
Also Plato acknowledges his debt to this tradition in the Phaedo. And many have noted that there is a "mystical" side to Plato's teaching.
Perhaps we should go even further back to the roots of shamanism in Tibet through Bon. Vajranatha, aka John Reynolds, discusses Bon's history at this link. He says Bon had 3 phases:
Primitive Bon more or less corresponds to the archaic shamanism and paganism of ancient Northern and Central Asia.
Yungdrung Bon or Old Bon (bon rnying-ma) was the high religious culture of the ancient kingdom of Zhang-zhung which centered around Gangchen Tise or Mount Kailas in Western Tibet.... The teachings of Yungdrung Bon did not solely originate in Zhang-zhung, but were said to have been brought from Tazik, that is, Iranian speaking Central Asia, to Zhang-zhung in Western and Northern Tibet by a number of mysterious white-robbed sages long before the political events of the seventh and eighth centuries.
And in phase 3 we see more the current Bon:
New Bon (bon gsar-ma) was a deliberate and conscious amalgamation of the Bon of Zhang-zhung with the Buddhism of Indian origin, especially as this spiritual tradition was represented by the Nyingmapa school in Tibet.
And in this article Vajranatha explains:
Examining the available evidence, it now appears likely that before Indian Buddhism came to Central Tibet in the seventh and eighth centuries, Zhang-zhung had extensive contacts with the Buddhist cultures that flourished around it in Central Asia and in the Indo-Tibetan borderlands. Just to the west of Zhang-zhung there once existed the vast Kushana empire which was Buddhist in its religious culture. It was an area in which Indian Buddhism interacted with various strands of Iranian religion-- Zoroastrian, Zurvanist, Mithraist, Manichean, as well as Indian Shaivism and Nestorian Christianity. This was also true of the oasis cities of the Silk Route to the northeast of Zhang-zhung such as Kashgar. Some scholars have seen this region beyond India as playing a key role in the development of certain aspects of Mahayana Buddhism, and later also in the development of Tantric form of Buddhism known as Vajrayana.
Yes, Bon has a rich shamanic history, and even the modern Buddhist-flavored Bon still preserves a strong shamanistic strain. Some folks, including Tibetans, have noticed some striking parallels (even shared vocabulary words and such) between Tibetan shamanistic traditions and those of certain Amerindian groups.
Here's a good resource on Bon shamanism (with articles by a number of my teachers and friends from back in my Bon-po days).
Now, whether there's a link between Tibetan and Mongolian shamanic traditions and ancient Greek ones, I have no idea. I'm curious to check out Kingsley's book to see what lines of evidence he's followed.
Ginsburg discusses the fact of quasi shamanistic practices and cults existing in Europe during the Reformation, in his book Ecstasies, though he too seems to suggest that pre-christian european "witchcraft" had some kind of shamanistic connection to asia.
I just don't see why such things can't be indigenous.
There almost seems to be a political agenda at work here, as if to say, "Let's bring these nice shamanistic traditions on-board and acknowledge our debt to them, those nice little red men that we\ve done so wrong." Kinda "PC" scholarship.
He may be telling a useful story fpr some, about us downtrodden mystics and esotericists, but I'm not sure how much value it has as actual history.
Of course, he's a "special Humanities professor" and it's their job to rail against, Plato, and "rationalism," and the "big tradition."
It also doesn't sound like he's read Hadot, either, as if the "talking school" he rails against sprung fully formed from Plato. He doesn't acknowledge that the philosophical schools of late antiquity were "ways of being" more than they were "intellectual positions" in a debate.
His quasi-theosophical agenda sounds a bit like the Manly P. Hall stuff or Edouard Schure material at times, though not as far fetched.
I can see how and why the wiccan or pagan or whatever reviewer reacted the way she did; he/she felt like her turf was being invaded by some christian and a MAN no less. haha.
funny stuff this.
Here's a good resource on Bon shamanism...
Reynolds, aka Vajranatha, wrote a few chapters in that book in which the info I provided above is repeated on Bon's history. Part of which comes from Nestorian Christianity, whose founder studied in Antioch, a major center of Hellenistic Greece. So we come full circle.