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
In the following interview, Kingsley describes his experience with the state experience / perspectival shift that Wilber describes in his most recent post at Integral Life.
Here's a couple more reviews:
The second review reiterates my problem with Kingsley's thesis in general on the asian shamanistic connection: "The Greeks weren’t hanging around in a spiritual haze waiting for the word from the north. They had their own seers, shamanic practices, and sacred speech traditions for centuries before Abaris showed up."
Other scholars have been more cautious in their use of Abaris. First, his encounter with Pythagoras would appear to be not much more than a legend, like that of Apollonius. Still, at the same time, I think that it could be argued that nonetheless, it may be a meaningful legend. But what exactly does it show? If it shows some kind of rapprochment and even recognition between the two cultures in the form of the two seers or sages or whatever you want to call them, would this not indicate that "Abaris" saw "Pythagoras" as kind of equal? The arrow is often taken as a symbol for some kind of sky magic or sky-walking, what I refer to previously as some kind of ecstatic, OBE, "subtle," or bodily transcendence type of experience. Since the arrow is given to Pythagoras the assumption is made that Pythagoras was taught some kind of technique that he did not possess. This is the point in the argument at which I balk. I don't see that as necessarily following. Lastly, it is not at all clear where Abaris came from. As I said previously, some scholars suggested Thrace, others Scythia.
I mentioned Manly P. Hall and the theosophists/anthroposophists previously. These come up in the reviews I give here, as well. While his earlier books, like Reality, appeared to push the scholarly envelope to the edge, the book on the "Mongolian connection" seems to be rather unfortunate. It really sounds overwrought and, as I have used the term,"hyperbolic" in its claims, as least from what I have read. It might be useful for the perennialist "believers" as well as for Kingsley's followers, but I'm not sure how many outside those circles will be convinced.
Here's an excerpt from "The Spiritual Tradition at the Roots of Western Civilization":
He [Plato] had given people something wonderful to play with. And soon it was obvious to almost
anyone that the way to get to the truth in those ideas was not through entering
some other state of consciousness but through thinking. As one historian has described
his achievement, in terms that are accurate enough, Plato was the man who ‘by a truly
creative act transposed these ideas definitively from the plane of revelation to the plane
of rational argument’.
This is actually a fair account of the interpretation given by the great scholar of Platonism and Hermeticism, Festugiuere. The quote would appear to be from Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, where if I remember accurately, Dodds makes use of Festugiere's concept of "transposition."
What Plato was saying, if we follow this interpretation, and many do, is that it may no longer be necessary to practice the "old" methods, and indeed, it may even be no longer be possible once one has seen through the older myths underpinning those practices.
Kingsley appears to be suggesting that we need to return to the "old pratices." These would be akin to practices and experiences like samadhi, jhana, yoga, shabda yoga, kundalini yoga, etc.
Early in this tract Kingsley talks about how philosophy has become "mere talking":
"We can still trace out how, well over two thousand years ago, the schools of Plato and
Aristotle put the seal on what was to become the most enduring Athenian contribution
to intellectual history in the West: instead of the love of wisdom, philosophy turned
into the love of talking and arguing about the love of wisdom. Since then the talking
and arguing have pushed everything else out of the picture-until now we no longer
know of anything else or can even imagine that there could be."
This would appear to be the all too familiar "talking school" polemic and rhetoric that we have seen elsewhere.
Near the end of the tract we find another familiar theme, that of antirationalism:
"Reason is one of those things — like common sense — that everyone is assumed to know
the meaning of. ... The closer you look at it the vaguer it becomes. And the closer you look at people who
claim to be most rational, the more irrational they turn out to be. . .
"As for logic, this too is not what it seems — or what it once was. Originally it had nothing
to do with complicated formulas, fancy calculations. Its purpose was to awaken: to
touch and transform every aspect of a human being. What we refer to nowadays as logic
is like a baby girl shuffling around self-importantly in her mother’s shoes. With our
endless learned debates over the last two thousand years about religion and reason, logic
and science, we have lost any grip on reality and been behaving like little children.
It’s time we started growing up. . .
"....But one thing should be quite clear: there is nothing even remotely
rational about this decision, this choice between two paths."
"Rationality is the first thing to go out of the window, because the choice we are being
asked to make involves saying yes to absolutely everything we see or think or hear. It
demands a state of total alertness, complete acceptance. There is no time to discriminate,
no room to be reasonable. And there is not the slightest reason to go along with this
choice that the goddess is urging us to make."
It would seem that Kingsley has a particular axe to grind. The "baby logic" charge stands out as particularly polemical and rhetorical. And is "thinking" really the bugbear he makes it out to be?
And so I have to ask:
1. Whether he has represented the "schools" he wishes to attack in a fair manner, just as we should ask the "practising school" of Neo-Advaita if it has accurately represented the so-called "talking school." In other words, we could ask Kingsley, among other things, whether the schools of Stoicism, Cynicism, Skepticism, Epicureanism found in late antiquity were not also "ways of life" analogous to Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism?
2. Whether it is absolutely necessary for us to have to resort to "mystical" or "yogic" practices and experiences like samadhi, and so on, for us to find wisdom? (This is the old conflict between "yoga" and "jnana" that keeps coming up.) In other words, by "transposition" we might also understand a kind of transition or movement from subtle paths and practices (like shabda yoga) to so called "causal" paths and practices (like jnana yoga, or krishnmurti's form of enquiry, or whatever).
So, I don't sense a plurality of paths in Kingsleys formulation. His account seems rather monological.
Thank you for unearthing the two reviews above. With regard to the first one particularly, even though I've only just begun reading it, I can see how it will serve as an anchor to a mind tempted to be carried aloft on flights of fancy.
You write above: "Kingsley appears to be suggesting that we need to return to the "old pratices." These would be akin to practices and experiences like samadhi, jhana, yoga, shabda yoga, kundalini yoga, etc."
In following this thread and its off-shoots to the extent that I have so far I haven't read or heard much reference from Kingsley to the " ..."mystical" or "yogic" practices and experiences like samadhi, and so on.." that you refer to. What Ihave been particularly struck by is the emphasis he places on "finding reality through your senses" (the title of the video in Bruce's post just upthread). So not so much practices of absorption, or 'internal' practices of the nadis, prana and bindu and so on, but the practice of being in the presence of awareness of whatever it is that's coming, or appears to be coming, through the sense gates. The title of the vid Bruce posted above is a bit of a misnomer in that Kingsley doesn't describe in it how one might find reality through the senses, but he does go into this in the longer vid Peter Kingsley : Complete Interview. And this practice, or training, as he describes it is of cultivating the presence of awareness within which ''reality'' apparently "manifests", including of course the reality of our thoughts, reasonings, analyses, judgements. So if Kingsley is correct in suggesting this is at the root or heart of Parmenides' philosophy-as-way-of-life, then it would indeed share roots with, or at least have commonality with, something that arose to the east (if not to the north) contemporaneously to Parmenides -- or, if the Yungdrung Bon explanation is to be (at least partly) accepted, even significantly prior to Pythagoras -- namely the teaching of Dzogchen.
I'm fascinated by the idea, as recounted in the Michael Steinberg review, that Pythagoras claimed "...to be the incarnation of Hyperborean Apollo, an archer god from beyond the north". And in tandem I appreciate your question "Whether it is absolutely necessary for us to have to resort to "mystical" or "yogic" practices and experiences like samadhi, and so on, for us to find wisdom?". Leaving post/meta-physics aside for the moment, I'm intrigued by the idea of "ancient wisdom" making itself ever-newly available to us, whether its vehicle is reincarnation or some other means. And linking the past ("ancient wisdom") to the present, as well as the east to the west, I'm particularly intrigued by the notion that today a modern Italian with a Tibetan spiritual-teacher father, who was deliberately not allowed by his father to be brought up in the "traditional" way so that he wouldn't be conditioned/indoctrinated by the Tibetan (in this case Sakya) collegial system, and who studied both philosophy and engineering at Italian universities, is now all of a sudden genuinely demonstrating (at least to my mind) a depth of knowledge and understanding of, as well as a perspicacity enabling him to elucidate in a contemporary way the essence of the Dzogchen teaching. The person who has made a film with him as protagonist gives a context for this in an article I posted here:
"It was already common knowledge that Yeshi was the reincarnation of his father's uncle, a famous master who died at the hands of the
Chinese. Knowing this, I started to imagine a father-son film where the
son would wake up and recognize his reincarnation, return to Tibet and
be enthroned in the monastery waiting for him. But when I told Yeshi of
my filmmaking dream, he said I should forget it. He wanted nothing to do
with this legacy. He was playing in a rock band and studying at the
I continued filming, but nothing happened and eventually I stopped traveling with Namkhai Norbu, put the footage aside, and made other
films. Periodically I returned to record Rinpoche and Yeshi. Over a
decade and a half went by and I was still filming my teacher, still
waiting for a story to appear. Until slowly, I began to hear word that
Yeshi's life was changing. He was flooded by visions of his past life
Notwithstanding the fact that I find myself wondering how else Yeshi might suddenly start demonstrating such easeful access to this...wisdom?...I do feel it relates directly to Peter Kingsley's seeming contention that such "ancient wisdom" lies at the heart of Western culture and civilisation, and that we have to a large degree become separated from it.
Btw, Kela, as a Sanskrit scholar could you let me know how you would pronounce "jnana", maybe rendering it phonetically for me? I messaged you not so long ago about this, but maybe you didn't get it.
Hi, Lol, concerning the pronunciation of jnana, I believe it is "gyaan." I just checked with my wife (who reads and chants Sanskrit) and that was how she pronounced it.
Please say hello and thank you to your wife for me : ) ...and..could her pronunciation be Nepali "dialect"? ;-)
This may speak volumes about me but I find the whole thing fascinating. Norbu pronounces it (what sounds like) "jaana" (the 'j' as in judge) ...but he is from Kham after all : ) I've listened to a couple of people in the community who lead practices. One pronounces it j-naana (the 'j' as in judge, and the naana as in banana), which I don't care for. Another, a translator who studied for years under Guenther, pronounces it y-nyaana. I've always thought the squiggle over the first 'n' made that 'n' a 'ny'. So I've experimented with pronouncing "jnana" as in vijnana [which I understand is pronounced vij (as in vision) + nyaana] minus the 'vi' ...leaving j-nyaana (the 'j' as in the french je) and a different j-nyaana (this 'j' as in judge). Both I can manage to articulate at slow speed, but at high speed forget it - it ends up as Norbu pronounces it. However, I was hoping a proper Sanskrit wallah would be able to give me the definitive, authentic rendering :-).
Yes, I will! And it could be a Nepali thing, but I actually already had learned elsewhere to pronounce it with a hard g, back when I lived in India. I understand that there are actually dialectical differences, though, so I'm not sure if the 'hard g' pronunciation is the most common. But I did find this on the web a few moments ago: "if we were to stretch out the sounds, it would be more like ‘Ghee-ah-na, (said with an initial hard 'g', not a soft 'jh') and then practice merging those sounds together more quickly and naturally: 'gyahna,' & you’ll be much closer to the correct pronunciation. In actuality the mouth barely begins the sound of 'gh,' before it merges into the first ñ in “mañana”. But 'gyahna' is respectable." But I'd be interested in Kela's take on this too.
Anywhoo, bit of a tangent, so I'll back out now!