The Quest for the Ultimate Romance: From Hero to Lovers
My quest for the Great Romance was powered by good fortune so abundant as to be a blessing in its own right. Privileged by birth, education, and the freewheeling ways of my generation, I was able to pursue this quest over the entire world with little constraint. Yet the very breadth of this scope makes what I have seen most difficult to convey. As I have studied in different great universities, each yielding its own sense of entitlement, and inhabited different cultures in the West, each with its own certainty of worldview, perspectives increased and relativity widened. But when I immersed myself in India everything shifted. Ancient Asian thought is so radical that it does not lend itselfto Western understanding. It does not have to do with intellectual constructs, hypotheses or theories, but with transitions in states of being. Only in my generation, which produced eager Westerners who sat diligently in ashrams and dojos on the other side of the planet, has Eastern thought begun to reveal its real secrets. Some of these secrets have proven critical to understanding the Great Romance. Therefore, by way of introduction I relate the spiritual and intellectual outlines of this adventure in order to provide a bridge into it.
The Idea of Transformation and the Hero’s Journey
Brought up in a sincere protestant family, I heard Christians speak a great deal about "conversion" and “salvation" by which they meant profound change into some optimal condition of life. As a Methodist, I registered that this critical alteration could take place by means of a method. When I was a teenager, my father became very active in a movement called Moral Rearmament. Their promise was “change": if people followed certain practices, they could transform themselves dramatically. While I balked at the group's cultish coercions, the whole idea of a life transformation fascinated me and set me on course to understand it further.
Change and transformation are not the same. Things and people are always changing. Indeed, nothing is constant but change. Transformation means that one thing is converted into another that is equivalent in some important respect but differently expressed or represented. It is a holistic or integral metamorphosis in which a person, couple or group reconstitutes in such a fundamental way as to alter its existence and self-understanding. In the case of an individual, it has a therapeutic sense implying a resolution of psychological problems through a process of reconstitution. Transformation means a basic alteration in the form, appearance, or character of existence, a change in the state of being.
The process of transformation is nothing if not dramatic. I was into drama, enjoying considerable success as a professional child actor, a career that I lost interest in as other horizons opened up. My early propensity for dramatic arts remained with me however, resurfacing later to integrate with other passions. Where performing art meets transformation something magic is to be found.
As an undergraduate at Yale I followed my fascination with transformation through studies in culture and behavior. The first major and prophetic insight came to me as I discovered the great psychologist C. G. Jung and his idea that human reality is shaped by universal forms or archetypes that express themselves in cultural myths and individual dreams. These can be “read” to trace the overarching arc of psychological development, which Jung called Individuation. In the process of Individuation a person undergoes a number of transformations. Often these transformations involve a great deal of distress that causes the individual to enter therapy. Jung’s form of therapy, analytic psychology, uses the dreams of an analysand to trace and facilitate the process of transformation. Completing the cycle of transformation allows the individual to resolve distress and successfully complete the cycle. This is a very beautiful method for bringing about substantial change. Over time this theory and methodology has clarified and shaped my entire approach to the subject of transformation.
Early on I also discovered Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces, which exposed me for the first time to the wonder of myth as illuminated by the archetypal psychology of Jung and the idea of Individuation. Campbell summarizes the basic drama of the Hero's Journey as follows: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men.” I recognized this as the “anatomy” of transformation, a basic formula for Individuation.
To describe this universal form Campbell chose the word “monomyth.” The term was first coined by James Joyce in Finnigans Wake, as the world began to be aware that myths (including the stories behind our religions) are not feeble attempts at scientific knowledge of the objective universe; much less do they compete with such knowledge. Instead, they reveal the nature of the human universe, the stuff of philosophical anthropology. Campbell's inquisitive and incisive intellect went beyond simply recognizing the universality of the monomyth over time and space, to ask what makes this myth universal. Why does the theme of the Hero's Journey appear in cultures of all times and countries, no matter how they may differ in every other respect?
I came to recognize this monomyth as a world language, not of words, but of image forms. It refutes the privileged status of any one tradition, because it applies universally to the myths and dreams throughout the world. It is the language of the one human being that we all are. The stories dear to humankind reveal our universal nature, and I saw in their symbolism a royal road to the self-understanding of our species.
Campbell’s work with the Hero’s Journey focused on the great transformations of life. I wrote my senior thesis on the meaning of the monomyth as the nature of universal change and transformation. It expresses the recurrent dynamic pattern in our lives by which we are constantly ‘called’ out of our ‘home’, the safety of status quo and established identity, and compelled to overcome our resistance to enter into the unknown, ‘the Land of Adventure.’ There we are thrust into ever deeper and more elemental, yet frightening aspects of ourselves. From this encounter we bring back wisdom, generating a new home. Every story of personal adventure in the world, including lost love, thus represents an ever-deepening synthesis with ever more fundamental truths of life. Ultimately however, I have come to realize that the Hero’s Journey monomyth actually expresses units of change of any kind in our lives, even mundane ones, such as getting a new idea or finding a lost object.
But what were these fundamental truths of life? Friedrich Nietzsche, the great philosophical provocateur, called them the “Mothers of Being -- Delusion, Will and Woe -- the innermost heart of things.” I saw them as the source of human existence itself.
Nietzsche also provided a second revelation in my undergraduate years. His seminal essay, The Birth of Tragedy, brought together my early experiences as a performer, a glimpse into the original sacred and healing function of theater, anda fundamental psychological principle. Nietszche showed that the roots of Greek tragedy, and by extension, a basic dichotomy in the human spirit, were to be found in two fundamental human impulses given their first formal expression in ancient Greece: Apollo the masculine god of the ideal, the formal and the ordered, and Dionysus, the feminine, the wild and intoxicated abandonment of all control in favor of chaotic vitality and dynamism. This insight immediately made sense of my own existence: my Christian upbringing and intellectual propensities promoted an Apollonian ideal: but I was all too aware that Dionysus was demanding his own tributes in my soul. At the same time, the essay opened up another view of the nature of performance and its relationship to psychological well-being.
Nietzsche raised a huge existential question: Greek tragedy managed a synthesis of these two opposing tendencies; how are you going to synthesize them in your own existence? This fundamental challenge has shaped many non-traditional approaches in my life to each of these tendencies, inspiring and stimulating me through many tributaries to their synthesis, for Nietzsche convinced me that this and only this can lead to truly wholesome existence. As this was the early sixties, the end to the Apollonian fifties, there were intimations that the Dionysian was returning. I registered distant rumblings. Rock and Roll was just gaining ground. Sex and drugs were not far behind. Dionysus was about to explode upon us with a vengeance.
I was struck by Herman Hesse’s alienated hero, Steppenwolf, who addresses his existential dis-ease in a ferocious journey into authenticity. At the outset he is drawn into a Magic Theater, where the psychodrama of his transformation is played out. In a world so far off its center, such a fantasy place was his only recourse. One thing became clear: If I was to continue my involvement with theater it could be nothing less than magic…
The Commonality of Religions
As a Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard Divinity School, I began to study Comparative Religions, fascinated by each world religion and simultaneously by what they all have in common. I fell into an anthropological view of religions, seeing each as unique but having a common referent. This has become one of the fundamental principles in my quest to understand the nature of transformation.
I dropped forever the idea that religious doctrine is any kind of objective truth about reality and its origins that competes with modern western history and science. I came to see every religion as a distinct language by which a culture understands its fundamental existential (as opposed to its objective) reality. It has to be understood as the illumination of something universal in its own cultural context. This includes Christianity, which I nevertheless held to be the beginning and ultimate base of my own spiritual understanding. My mother tongue, as it were.
At the same time that I was appreciating the unique cultural context of each religious language, I became more and more fascinated with their common anthropological and psychological ground, addressing the nature of human reality and transformation. I was grateful to discover that Aldous Huxley had already harvested this commonality in his landmark book The Perennial Philosophy. Looking for a guide to interpret the ground even more deeply, I became fascinated with the existential theology of Paul Tillich, which grandly reinterpreted Christianity as the relationship to the ground of Being. This in turn led me to Tillich’s progenitor, Martin Heidegger, the dark giant of twentieth century philosophy.
Martin Heidegger and the Foundations of Being
Approaching Heidegger is the philosophical equivalent of climbing Everest. With youthful ardor, I accepted the challenge. While understanding him was a steep climb, it was in the end a descent into my own understanding of the Mothers of Being.
Heidegger addressed a question so fundamental I had never yet touched upon it: What are we in? We assume that we are in our own subjectivity that is inside of the objective reality of the world, we are spirit in matter. But in our preoccupation with this world, we have forgotten that we are most primordially in consciousness, and just as our bodies are essentially the same, so is consciousness in its basic make-up the same in all humans.
While we all are in the same human consciousness, we are unaware of it, because we have been deluded by our preoccupation with things into thinking that this separated or alienated world is our true reality. We have lost our primordial common home and therefore live in a constitutional angst. In my view, the most fundamental function of religious practice has been to counter this angst, as it is the root of all dis-ease.
While the angst of forgottenness is the perennial human condition, it has become intensified by the particular displacement that modern humans experience as a function of the materialistic and scientific way we have come to understand our factual world and ourselves, sometimes graphically referred to as a “flatland”. To Heidegger, our preoccupation with the usefulness of things, technology, is a form of violence in that it perverts and diminishes our true and original integral experience, our real home. Because our scientific view blindly validates the existence of the objective world, and because our technological aspirations have led paradoxically to so many disasters and reverses, now amplified by world awareness and the awareness of history, our angst and displacement is greater than ever. It results in a kind of chronic immaturity, which existentialists call “alienation.”
Heidegger had found a radical way to counter this angst of alienation by a new approach to the fundamental question of “what we are in”. He distinguished between what most of us think of as reality, the world of objects and subjects, which he called “beings,” and the greater context of consciousness, or unitary “ground,” out of which subject and objects actually appear, which he called “Being.” Our understanding of beings is cultivated, a product of culture. Our primal understanding of Being is inborn, but it lies hidden beneath our common understanding of subjects and object. Beings are constructed; Being is given. It is the Source.
Uncovering this source, the actual original experience of what manifests or presents itself in our experience of the world, became the focus of Heidegger’s Foundational Ontology. His great work, Being and Time “laid out” this foundation as Dasein, meaning experienced existence on the one hand and Da-Sein or “Being there” on the other. What we call our consciousness is first and foremost “Being there”. This distinction between mere things and Being There, the distinction between beings and Being, he called the Ontological Difference.
With this Heidegger devalued scientific and technological truths as the arbiters of Being and formally launched the revolutionary project of existentialism. For the real nature of Being, don’t look to facts or true statements about objective things, but to your own existence as you experience it. Your story is the truth of Being. This validated the whole impulse in the arts towards expressing the artist’s own experience, an extension of relativity and the fundamental principle of post-modernist art.
Over the years, Heidegger expressed this Ontological Difference in many ways, eschewing any fixed terminology. For example, the difference between an ontic or Ontological view, or between cogitation and contemplation. Many other ways of expressing this distinction have served me through the years. We could say that all things are but a function of consciousness, as found in Kant or the Buddhist School of “Mind-only”. Or we will say the cosmos, the totality of things, is the reality of beings, but it is included and transcended by the reality of Being, the Pythagorean Kosmos, having an intrinsic beauty and harmony through which all beings have their place and purpose. Or we will discuss how Heidegger proposed that through everyday and scientific language we call forth “beings”: through poetry, myth and religion we approach “Being, the ground of all experience”. We forget consciousness, eschew Kosmos, and we believe in science more than poetry. All of these are variations on the theme of the Ontological Difference.
This idea that we chronically overlook our existential ground led me to understand that stories having the Hero's Journey form counter the “forgottenness of Being”. Heroes rediscover Being. They express our progress towards maturation as an ongoing confrontation with the Mothers by which they cause us to “remember” Being. In other words, through the trials of life, the Mothers are constantly drawing us into the truth, or ground of Being.
Understanding this was a revolution in my own understanding of reality.As I looked further afield I found that great religious scripture addresses the specific function of revealing the nature of Being, transforming us out of delusion into truth and overcoming the woe of inauthentic existence. Over the years, I have come to see religion and myth as a fundamental language based on universal principles that reveal the nature and structure of Being. Myths symbolically portray the dynamic organizing principles of the psyche (or Being) by which fundamental change occurs. In short, religion, myth, poetry and art tell us more about the true reality of our Being than objective science ever can. They are antidotes to the separation from the primordial order of the Source. This became more and more thematic and clear as the quest for the Great Romance unfolded. In time we shall see this is the doorway into the hidden blessing of the Ramayana.
Ludwig Wittgenstein and Language Usage
Continuing on my heady way to Cambridge, I entered King’s College, dominated by its fabulous parallel gothic chapel and its radical tradition of looking behind the obvious for the interesting, behind the cliche for the subtle truth. This fearless mindset served me well, because Heidegger and myth were largely tabooed subjects at Cambridge. The status quo was permeated by the received opinion of Austrian Philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. In time however, I found that his critique of thought and philosophy approached the subject of alienation in an entirely different way, through the astute critique of our lazy inattention to the way we use language. Though Heidegger framed his thought in existential terms of authenticity and the relationship to Being, both seminal twentieth century thinkers were involved in the same fundamental problem of drift away from the Mothers of Being, though describing it this way would be a great stretch for any serious student of Wittgenstein.
Following Heidegger's foundational metaphysics was like journeying to the center of the earth, but his language was dauntingly obscure. Under the influence of Wittgenstein, I became fascinated with this very obscurity itself. Why did Heidegger express his thought in such abstruse language? What was the language game behind Heidegger’s evolving form of expression? This became the subject of my thesis.
Heidegger’s esoteric language arose from the fact that he was turning his gaze away from objects and material reality where our common vision is fixated and which our conventional language describes, to express how we primordially experience reality, the “ground of Being,” before we interpret it as things and facts. Heidegger’s teacher, Husserl, had developed a method for viewing this reality as it primordially appears in consciousness, which he called “phenomenology.” Heidegger adapted Husserl’s primordial way of seeing by going beyond the common or scientific interpretation of things to penetrate how they originally show themselves in our existence. For instance, for Heidegger time is not originallythe beings called “past”, “present”, and “future”, but is primordially lived as "presently-arriving-from-past-into-future.” I wrote my thesis at Cambridge on how Heidegger had to develop a language that simultaneously disrupts our chronic alienation from ordinary understanding and simultaneously discloses this more fundamental way that experience or Being presents itself, best revealed in poetry. Ultimately, Heidegger abandoned terminologically laden philosophical expression altogether for what he called Dichtendes Denken, or “dense poetic thought.”
Phenomenology, so controversial and revolutionary in the West, was in fact the tip of an iceberg. It exposed the fact that we have lost our primordial way of relating to reality, thus rendering incomprehensible much of our own ancient wisdom tradition. Over the years I have come to understand that phenomenology is in fact contemplation. It is radically receptive, inveterately feminine. It is the vision not of world and things, but of “mother” consciousness itself.
Our two eyes see the world: the “third eye” gazes upon the way the world primordially emerges as consciousness. Without appreciating this fundamental contemplative discipline of observing consciousness as it originally manifests and reveals itself, much is obscure and incomprehensible about Asia, and many questions in the West remain insoluble.
India and the Upanishads
Where does a lover of truth go in order to “come home”? Where does one turn for a definitive vision of reality and find words appropriate to it?
My superb Western education was a Land of Adventure. Vast spaces for challenge, growth and wonder opened up. At Yale and Harvard I was led to believe that I had reached the apogee of learning. At Cambridge, I discovered that in the greater West, the Ivy League and America itself was somewhat provincial. Studying in France and entering Germanphilosophy I realized that the whole English-speaking world is language bound and conceptually regional.
Over the years, I look back with some bemusement at my decision, after Cambridge, to leave the West. My college mates, folks like Dick Cheney, were gaining a firm foothold in Washington and New York and the halls of academia. I chose India, substantially knocking the ground out from under my own feet.
As I explored Asia, I came to realize how limited the West was. Many ambiguities in Western thinking had no answers, but in Asia, outside of the Western intellectual box, new perspectives opened up and many answers were to be found that furthered my quest, but made it more difficult to convey.
Already in the nineteenth century, Schopenhauer predicted that the discovery of Indian scriptures was going to impact Western thought in a way equivalent to or even more dramatic than the rediscovery of classical thought upon the Renaissance. As translations of sacred Hindu texts began to filter into the West, a slow earthquake began in Western thought that is still being registered.
Even in the twentieth century the West/East breach seemed insurmountable. When Jung went to India in the 1920s he had a nervous breakdown. Emerging, he declared that Asia is the unconscious of the West and the two could never meet. My generation — blessed with relative world peace and affluence and laid open psychically by psychedelics — had jet travel to an India that had not yet been overrun by tourism and American revision. It fell to us to explore the East existentially. While China was largely forbidden, India was wide open. As dedicated pilgrims we began to penetrate secrets heretofore incomprehensible in the West. We encountered Asians who had grounded themselves in Western thought and were able to articulate the roots of Eastern thought. The process has been slow but radical, as real assimilation means taking things back to their roots in existence and being.
In this way, understanding the obscurity of Heidegger and journeying with him to the center of the earth afforded a shortcut to Asia. As it turns out, Asian Thought is obscure in the same way as Foundational Ontology: it too expresses a more primordial reality seen only through contemplation. Nowhere were there to be found more exquisite examples of “dense poetic thought” than the Sanskrit verses of the ancient Upanishads, the defining Hindu scriptures, and as I subsequently realized, the Daodeching of Laotze.
In the late sixties I was invited to Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi to take up a post as Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of Philosophy. I was able to live in Varanasi and study the scriptures in great depth. There, with the complete support of gifted Sanskrit scholars, I headed up a two-year research project on the language of the Upanishads, using the tools of linguistic analysis I had learned from Wittgenstein and the Foundational Ontology of Heidegger. I called it “linguistic archeology”.
As I studied these verses, it became clear that Heidegger’s pursuit of a more primordial way of seeing was a key to understanding what Asians revere as the most fundamental transformation of all, often described in English as “enlightenment.” It is not a matter of reaching ever more refined obscurities and intellectual abstractions, but of coming home to the ground of Being. The perennial spiritual path is to uncover the most simple given source of our existence, our inborn awareness, before it becomes attached to an already interpreted world. It is apprehending our origins, the primordial roots of consciousness itself. Stepping into and dwelling in that rich simplicity, the enlightened one understands with deep compassion the complicated and tangled delusion in which most fellow humans live and suffer. This represents an existential end to Foundational Ontology. It does not lead to theory, but to true Understanding. It is not knowledge, but realization.
The Psychedelic Wave
Meanwhile, it was the late sixties. Dramatic changes were taking place in America. After so many expatriate years, I had little understanding of these changes. Far away in India, I heard rumblings of appalling assassinations of cultural heroes, growing protests against a fruitless war in Vietnam, and unheard of rebellion by students. I did not at first recognize that this cultural movement reflected the same discontent with American culture that had sent me into voluntary exile for so many years. As I began to see hippies in India I was utterly enchanted. One of the first ones I encountered walked barefoot…in India!?! The appeal of these stylish ragamuffins seemed to evoke my own inner directions. In their neo-oriental garb I recognized my own orientation to the East. In their back-to-nature flair, I saw my longing to realign with the Mothers of Being. Men with long hair?? How natural! How unabashedly feminine! Prophets of Dionysus.
During a long sojourn in Kathmandu in the summer of Woodstock, as man first walked on the moon, I discovered psychedelic substances. My first LSD experience, however, was a dramatic confrontation with nothingness. It shocked me so deeply that I have been very conservative about psychedelic use ever since and have spent years catching up intellectually and psychologically to this experience. While repelled by narcotics, I realized that mind-altering substances such as marijuana, LSD, mescaline and ayahuasca perform a timely function, rather like phenomenology, a lot easier if more chaotic. That is, they shatter the confident belief in objective material reality criticized by Heidegger and provide an experience of Being that shocks assumptions about the reality we are actually in.
The shock that our everyday reality is a delusion proves to be either too much, in which case one gives it all up, numbly trying to forget, or else there is no choice but to inquire further. In the end, such substances only open up questions; they do not answer them. For seeking minds, however, this opening is irresistibly compelling. The questions ultimately demand not substance-induced inquiry, but time-honored methods produced by the great adepts, the foremost of whom was the Buddha. Only these methods can clarify experiences like my initial run-in with emptiness. So if my intellect had taken me to these frontiers, my psychedelic experiences consigned me, along with a whole culture of others like myself, to a lifelong commitment as a seeker.
It was at this point that I was invited across the Ganges to the Ramlila, the Ramayana ritual. Heidegger had already given me the clue to the foundational meaning of this “play of God” -- that our world of things, which we take to be reality, is actually the “forgottenness” of Being -- but research in Sanskrit had elaborated upon this richly. The world of beings that we think of as the material world, is not actually made of “stuff,” but created through cosmic consciousness (Being) by an infinitely complex and sophisticated orchestration of experiences. What we think is going on is actually created by maya, the power of illusion (the forgottenness of Being), represented by the nine-headed villain Ravana: whereas what is really going on is the Ramlila, the play of God. How the Ramayana expresses the laws of that play was clarified later, and is the subject of this book, but this idea of “play” was to become key to that clarification, not only in theory but in practice. The Ramayana is Foundational Ontology by other means.
Jung Institute and Individuation
After years of study and research, I was beginning to feel stultified by academia. This was my own response to the spirit of the late sixties that sought a more “relevant” application of intellect. Restless, I was longing to help people bring about creative change in their lives. I kept thinking back to Jung and his pragmatic method for promoting transformation in the context of the over-all process of Individuation. In time, this inclination led me to the Jung Institute in Zurich, where I studied archetypal psychology and had the opportunity for some serious work on myself through analysis.
Given the West/East breach and the clipped Cambridge academic I had become by the time I left for India, it was not easy to integrate two years of alien and psychedelic experience in Asia. In this I was revisiting the experience of breakdown by Jung himself. Unable to accomplish such an integration he claimed it was impossible to achieve. As I experienced this process in my own healing, it was excruciating, full of strange anxieties. I am not psychotic, but East and West created a psychosis within me that I had to resolve. Times were changing: East and West were coming closer together in a shrinking world. My own healing was part of that process.
Resolving these issues resulted in a basic pattern in my life and research: if things don’t really fit together in the West, look to the East. This has prompted many journeys and long sojourns in India and Bali, a study of many traditional texts, rendered available through new translations, with the assistance of Asian mentors conversant and literate with the West.
The Ideal and the Whole
One of the most fundamental insights from the East was the understanding of tantra and its generic difference from yoga. I had already encountered this difference in Nietzsche’s distinction between the Dionysian and the Apollonian, but in Asia it became clear in terms of diverse methodologies for attaining optimal development and highest consciousness. Tantra became known in the West for its eyebrow-raising cultivation of sexuality, as yoga is known for adopting uncomfortable positions on a mat. These are but populist hints as to the real distinction. They are both ways of approaching life/God, but they differ fundamentally as the path of self-control and the path of surrender. These are two distinct kinds of discipline, each having its own power.
Yoga approaches God by taking on an ideal, identifying with it and striving for it by performing it in life. The form of one yoga pose, for instance, is an ideal of the essential relaxed structure of the body, which, upon mastery, becomes a base for contemplating an essential spiritual state. Or, yoga could be taking on a psychological ideal, such as compassion or purity, and attaining it by living up to it and rejecting its contraries. Yoga says, if you perform the ideal, you will become it. The agenda of “living up to an ideal” characterizes the basic cultural disposition of the Western world. It produces the super-ego. Christianity was the traditional authority for this ideal, bet even in a “post-Christian” West, ideals behind Christianity, such as justice, equality and brotherhood, form the cultural “super ego”.
In contrast, tantra is the way of excess, reaching God by surrendering to one’s totality and striving for authenticity. Traditional tantrics break all the rules, sometimes shockingly. This is fundamentally Dionysian. Surrender means performing ones truth into self-discovery until one becomes wholly authentic. The wild adventure of surrendering into true Self is surrendering into God. This is the most ancient method in Asia, identified with both Shaivism and Daoism, as well as the religion of Dionysus, long dead in the Western Christian ideal.
While the techniques of tantra are alien to the Western mind, its underlying view of reality has been entering Western consciousness for several centuries in a basic shift in values, from becoming an ideal self (a good Christian, husband, father) to becoming what one authentically is. A significant point in this change was Freud’s discovery of the nature of psychological pathology: living according to ones ego ideal creates psychological dis-ease, because it generates a hidden rebellion on the part of one’s true being or relation to vitality itself, the “it” (Id). Psychotherapy reflected a sea change to tantric modes of thought in that psychological health becomes related to wholeness. With Jung this became thematic with the idea of individuation; that the fundamental life drive, expressing the force of evolution itself, is to realize ones wholeness. This Dionysian/tantric model underlies all therapies arising out of the so-called Human Potential Movement. It provokes most of the changes emerging out of the explosion of the Sixties, heralding a great cultural shift. ‘Do your own thing’, ‘Be here now’, ‘Make love not war’, ‘Follow your bliss’—all are tantric directives.
The results of this fundamental change have been frightening to some. Indeed, it is a perilous path because however it may lead to palaces of wisdom, it passes through paths of excess. To anyone still devoted to the traditional Christian model, or yoga, that is, adhering to an ideal or a duty, the tantric impulse seems like cultural disaster, hence the reactions to the Sixties and the ongoing sociological rift between conservatives and progressives, or “cultural creatives”.
This principle of reaching ones totality, one’s ultimate power through surrender, underlies all my therapeutic understanding and is the basic principle of the methodology of mythogenesis I came to call ORIGINS.
In the process of knitting myself together, I came to understand the way of wholeness. I gained great insight into the connection between excess, individuation, the progress towards the fullness of maturity, and the Hero's Journey as the universal image of psychological transformation. I began to have the vision that, by means of this universal formula, it might be possible to “engineer” transformation, realizing that, in effect this is the most basic and authentic purpose of religion.
But before I could engineer anything, I had to explore that path myself.
California and the Human Potential
In 1971 I established myself permanently in California, initially in Santa Barbara. There I became a fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a liberal think tank perched high on a hill over the sea, whose distant, opposite shores are Asia. Thrown together with international luminaries of the time, such as Robert Hutchins, Alex Comfort, Elisabeth Mann Borghese, Bishop James Pike, Ivan Illich, and John Lilly, I began to apply all of my exotic experience to understanding the dynamic of institutions and the problems and challenges of real democracy. My particular focus was whether any collective involves us in an agenda of conformity or provides a framework for real existential fulfillment. And then too, how is it that collectives and institutions transform and evolve. In time I have come to see that the Great Romance is a key to understanding this level of evolution.
In the early seventies, optimism and mysticism flourished in the California sunshine. Adventurers at this new frontier were living out what my favored European thinkers were only theorizing about. I quickly felt at home in an environment influenced by Asia in the same way that the East Coast is influenced by Europe. Soon, I discovered the Esalen Institute in Big Sur through a close friendship with its founder, Michael Murphy. There, where the edge of the Western world plunges dramatically into the Pacific, advanced psychological thought, Eastern philosophy and practice were melding into new life forms under the rubric of the Human Potential Movement. It had the dizzying ferment of the renaissance foreseen by Schopenhauer when Asian thought really touched Western shores.
I became heavily involved with this Movement, recognizing that by and large, it is based in methods of tantra promoting wholeness. I formed many creative friendships and began to discover practical ways of applying all I had learned abroad about human process. From Esalen cofounder, Dick Price, I learned about Gestalt therapy and its hands-on methods of working with the force of individuation to bring about wholeness. I also came to appreciate how play therapy frees up this natural inclination towards self-fulfilment. From my brilliant friend Paul Rebillot, I learned how to combine gestalt therapy and psychodrama in the format of the Hero’s Journey to bring about constructive change in people's lives in a way that was creative and even fun - play. This personal embodiment of the monomyth gathered together all of my work to this point, eventually leading to the creation of the Process I came to call ORIGINS.
Embodiment is the key.
The Body as Relationship to the Source
The theme of alienation in the West blends into the perennial idea of separation from the source. As I was to understand over many years in Asia, afundamental principle of contemplative methodology counters separation by contemplating nature and natural phenomena. By being silently present to nature and its ways (as opposed to spinning theories about them) the nature of consciousness begins to reveal itself. This scheme counters the tendencies of separation, and it becomes very direct and powerful in the contemplation of bodily being.
When I lived in Varanasi I often went down to the ghats, the many broad steps that lead down into the Ganges, where I watched with fascination the devoted practices of holy men. What were all these positions they were taking and rites they were performing and why were they so serious and reverential about it?
In the West the body has been seen in opposition to the spirit. This separation expresses itself in the many dualities Westerners take for granted: spirit and nature, soul and body, mind and matter. This derives from the Bible-based narrative that disparages the body as the source of sin. This contempt prefigures our exploitive relationship to nature, which now threatens human existence itself. It goes back to the ideal versus the whole. In the ideal, the body is something to be mastered and dominated, not contemplated and integrated, despite the holistic biblical proposition that the body is the temple of the soul.
While the body has traditionally been seen as the contrary of the spirit in the West, in East Asia it is valued as the present incarnation and temple of consciousness. It is the vehicle to highest consciousness. As I watched those holy men doing their exercises and practices on the steps leading down to their sacred river, I absorbed the pragmatics of this principle.
The core of the principle is to be found in the Sanskrit term purusha, which I translate as “Person”, but which means embodied consciousness, that is the given awareness of body/mind unity common to all human beings. The purusha principle, basically unknown in the West, represents a mind/body relationship to our given nature, one that exists more primordially than any sense of separation between body and mind, or for that matter, prior to any sense experience at all. We could call the Person “sense 0” that is prior to our five senses. It is inborn perception of the primal unity of body and consciousness. In Asia this 0 sense has been cultivated since the beginning of time through contemplation. The body and consciousness of Purusha has one universal form that can be experienced and “read” by any human being. This “reading” is in fact apprehending a primordial sense of bodily presence and awareness. By contemplating aspects of this form, we can know the ground of our consciousness. This is the primordial religious act.
Our embodied consciousness is the ground of all experience. Every human has a given understanding of this 0 sense, which is, however, forgotten. The process of enlightenment is to make this inborn awareness conscious of itself. As the 0 sense apprehends itself, it is called jnan-(Skt) or gnosis (Gk). This understanding of the given is the basis of enlightenment and psychospiritual health, the anchor of all religious traditions. Therefore, in Asia, the most effective means of bringing about enlightenment is physical cultivation and body-based contemplation, as reflected both in yoga and tantra, and further East, contemplative movement, such as tai chi chuan. Enlightenment is simply health.
After my stay in Varanasi, I was utterly enthralled by this concept so exotic to the Western mind. However, from my high academic perch, I did not know how to gain access to such a pragmatic practice. At Esalen this new field of relationship to the body was being explored in manifold ways. The relationship to the body was a primary focus of the Human Potential Movement. A new friend, Esalen denizen, Seymour Carter, devastated and provoked me by announcing; “The intellect is the booby prize”. Freed from the bondage of my intellectual hubris, I became to play like a kid in a toy store.
My understanding of the beauty and elevation of the Person in Asia has grown in stages. It started in India, but subsequently, as I spent more time in Bali, it was brought home in waves of insight. At one point I came to know a member of the Javanese court. This prince showed me the routine of postures, a slow movement form which royalty of the court practiced every day. Each position expresses one quality of royalty, say nobility or care, and they flow together in a kind of slow dance moving from one position to the other. The court learned this dance and practiced it daily as a way of grounding themselves in the proper psycho-physical posture of a royal person.
This use of the Person principle reached its apogee with Buddha. A statue of Buddha is exoterically a representation of the Buddha, but those who know, understand that the figure, comprehended internally, directs consciousness into a state of serene and essential groundedness. The image represents the inner experience of enlightened awareness of primordial Being, the Person utterly seated in itself. This is the true home of the Person. In the Chinese Buddhist tradition this has been expressed thus, referring to the tree under which Buddha was enlightened: the body is the bodhi tree and the mind is the clear mirror that reflects it. Like this image, the Person is the Eastern understanding of the pure body mind relationship and it has become more and more important in my own mystical quest as well as thematic in my life work.
Arica, Useful Tools
Soon after coming to Esalen I came upon the body-based methodology of Oscar Ichazo, a South American teaching master who had investigated and practiced disciplines from great spiritual traditions around the world. I became involved with Ichazo’s Arica Institute, a creative mystical school using pragmatic existential tools based in the Purusha principle, which Ichazo called “the divine human prototype”.
In the Arica trainings, I came to experience the Person first hand. The Person is not a static whole composed of parts, but an organic “integral” Self-system in which all aspects are related systemically. The object is to clarify this systemic unity, thereby realizing the integral Person, returning awareness to the one human that unites us all. This represents the most basic transformation, which Ichazo calls “theosis”. To accomplish this requires not so much intellectual enquiry, as focus on experience resulting from practices such as those the yogis were doing at the ghats.
Arica is composed of many maps, only one of which has escaped into the pubic sphere, having come to be known as the Enneagram. The maps provide the framework for the practices. Whereas all religions I had known were based on mythic or historical narratives, all imagery in the maps used in Arica had their source either in nature, such as the elements or geometry, or subtle body-based experience, such as the kinesthesis of very slow movement. Many are based on some aspect of the prototypal human form, such as the respiratory or digestive systems, because these are the perfect image for contemplating the luminous nature and structure of consciousness. It has taken me many years of concentrated Arica practice to understand this aspect of the purusha principle: the imagery by which we can contemplate and realize our essential conscious nature is the human form in which it is housed. The sense of body is literally the temple of the soul.
At this point I rapidly lost interest in pursuits that were solely intellectual or academic, and I turned to ritual, body-based techniques, and contemplative methods to further the process towards complete realization of the Self-system. Arica has provided my formal individual practice ever since, and through its methodology I grow ever richer. Uniting spirit and body in "theosis," reverts to the original inborn health of the whole self, producing true contentment. Through intense practice over the years I have come to understand that the peace which passes all understanding can never be found in the world or the mind, but only by arriving in the true home of consciousness, which I understand as the Source, the “origins”.
The maps and practices of Arica are kept secret and passed exclusively within the mystical school. What I have received from these useful tools has proven invaluable, but I can never pass them on. I have had to find my own vehicle to convey the essential teachings. This in itself has proven invaluable.
Mythogenesis and ORIGINS
At Esalen I began to formulate and conduct my own workshops using the theories, techniques and forms I had assimilated over the years, incorporating my early experience as a performer and Nietzsche’s idea of synthesizing Apollonian form and Dionysian celebration. I gathered them into a Jungian-based process in which I combined many techniques, including gestalt therapy, movement, meditation, ritual forms and Rebillot’s psychodrama arranged according to the form of the Hero's Journey. I had found the formula for Magic Theater.
I came to call this method “mythogenesis”. In the main section of the Process, called “DREAM”, I learned how to guide participants to generate their personal myth, the characters and story of their own hero’s journey. Mythogenesis is largely based on the simple idea that the body is the seat of the unconscious. Each character emerges through a step-by-step process of sharing relevant personal experience and associations, drawing out the character through expressive movement and guided fantasy, and then incarnating the character before the group. The characters of the monomyth embody the experienced elements of the psyche: a Hero, who is the responsible chooser, the Magic Helper, who draws the Hero towards transformation, and the hidden Monster, who is attempting to control and eventually destroy the whole. Once these characters are fully formed and presented, the participant places them in the story form of the monomyth. The result is a symbolic, mythic narrative, unique to the individual. This is the Dream, and it produces a very accurate view of where one is in one’s life journey.
This seminal story expresses the individual’s way of encountering the Mothers of Being. In the climax of the workshop, the Supreme Ordeal, each participant, supported by myself and the group, confronts their greatest fear. This always turns out to be one or another form of thwarted will -- rage, sexuality or nothingness (death) -- the avoidance of which fosters and sustains delusion and the repression of which creates the woe of neurosis. Everyone has such a story, but it manifests only in fragments, in dreams and fantasies, so that its basic form never takes coherent shape. In the Dream process of ORIGINS the full story takes shape.
There is something deeply satisfying about discovering one’s seminal Dream. The mythogenesis reunites body and consciousness in a way that evokes the hidden intuition that they are one before they are two, the purusha principle. The result is centering and grounding. The process of integration continues as each participant embodies the Dream through psychodrama, in which each performs the dynamic between all the parts leading to the transformative re-integration, the return home. The psychodrama can be very difficult and challenging, as one embodies the best and the worst. It produces the most real and raw performance I have ever experienced, far exceeding the pleasures of my youthful participation in theater, and in the end, truly magic.
Meanwhile, the Dream yields a vigorous and rich experiential basis for psychological analysis. The story, together with its embodiments and analysis, clearly identifies where one is stuck in life, and just as clearly indicates how to move on. It alters the narrative of ones life from one based on personal history, often negatively construed, to one that shows the overall process of one’s whole being. It is more than therapy; it is a clarification of one’s fundamental life journey. It goes beyond psychology (Who am I?) into ontology (What am I? What is the nature of my being?). In the end it produces many new states of well-being.
This process was the culmination of my path to this point integrating my childhood experience of professional theater, my undergraduate enthusiasm for the Hero's Journey monomyth and the synthesis of Apollo and Dionysus, the experience of the Person in Asia. It fulfilled the inspiration I had at the Jung Institute that the monomyth form could be used to engineer individuation.
The basic methodology of mythogenesis was ancient, shamanistic; the creation of personal myth as a medium for therapy and development. The groups became a very rich and efficient medium for working with people to bring about creative and therapeutic change. For me, the workshops also became a laboratory for the empirical study of transformation.
The method of mythogenesis works through what Deepak Chopra has called "mythic bliss," deep communion with the fundamental laws and forces of the psyche such as those traced in the Hero’s Journey monomyth. I came to call this process ofmythogenesis “ORIGINS.”
Over the years, the idea of mythogenesis and the embodiment of the Hero’s Journey expanded as I was exposed to performance/mystery schools such as existed in ancient Greece, but even more as I found existing even today in Asia, as for instance, in the Kathakali in Karala, India. Under this influence, particularly in Bali, I expanded the ORIGINS Process of mythogenesis from DREAM as described above into further stages: MYTH, in which the group creates its own collective Dream: and RITUAL in which this Myth is set into a formal ritualized production on the model of the Ramlila. The entire Process has been described in detail in my book Performing Inside Out.
Osho and Veereshwar
Meanwhile, in my own development, the impact of ever-new, seismic stimuli and new information kept me in a state of perpetual adolescence. In my mid-thirties, this continued through yet one more destabilizing cycle as I returned to India and became the disciple of Rajneesh, the notorious tantric master now known as Osho. Here I came to understand the true nature of tantra.
A tantric master is no ideal, no paragon spouting pure illuminated truths, as most westerners expect a “guru” to be, nor is he a purveyor of well-reasoned arguments. He is a provocateur of change, an incarnation of the Person, who exploits any possibility of blasting open the impacted conventionalities of the mind. Provocation is the operative word here. In prudish India, Rajneesh sprinkled his exquisite discourses with dirty jokes. In materialistic America, he accumulated ninety-eight Rolls Royces. Often hated as much as loved, a tantric master is not for everybody, but an incalculable treasure for some.
I had a snobby attitude about people who go to India, find a guru and come home sporting special garb and a new name. In addition, given my inveterate aversion to cultishness, it was nothing short of a miracle that I should become a disciple. Yet I could not help myself. Osho was different. He was brilliant, a PhD in the philosophy of his own tradition, who allegedly consumed daily three western books on philosophy and psychology, and he was fully capable of a careful hermeneutic of every great “scripture” in the Asian tradition. But frankly, it was his fearless insight into sexuality and other Mothers of Being, eschewed by most guru paragons, that I found deeply compelling and authentic. To me the only teachers worth attending are those who authentically deal with sex and its connection to spirituality. This is the pragmatic field for exploring the body/mind relationship. This is the mark of tantra.
If I had any doubts about my connection to Osho, they were dispelled when I formally became his disciple. With no knowledge of my interest in the Hero’s Journey, he gave me the name “Veereshwar.” It is a name of Shiva, the Hindu god of transformation, and it means, “Lord of the Heroes.” This name clarified and focused the trajectory of my life.
By giving me a name of Shiva, Osho opened a long fascination with Shaivism. When I had first arrived in India, I felt afraid and repelled by it. It was alarmingly different from other Indian religions, more funky, primordial, overtly phallic. In time, I came to understand that the religion of Shiva goes back to the archaic roots of human religiosity, including a deep connection to the Dionysian religion in the Mediterranean and the Dao in China. These roots have provided me with critical clues as to the true meaning of the Great Romance.
Osho’s own name, “Rajneesh” is a Sanskrit word for the full moon, literally, “ruler of the night.” With his astonishing command of all religious traditions and ability to translate them into existential terms comprehensible in the West, this great Master illuminated all the passions and intuitions of my life with the light of the full moon. I sat at his feet for ten years, many of them commuting between teaching positions in California and his ashram in Pune, near Bombay. Once again India challenged and expanded me on many fronts.
The True Romance
Not the least of these fronts was a new understanding of romance, specifically the longing behind the dream of romance and its connection to individuation and true contentment. One of Osho’s provocations was to blast the convention of marriage and downplay the value of long-term stable relationships as an obstruction to the real longing behind romance. To me, product of a happy and successful marriage, long-term committed companionship is precious in its own right, but rhetorically Osho set this against the true longing for love, which was deeply relevant to my quest to understand the Great Romance.
According to this master provocateur, even the rare few who experience the “happily ever after” dream of relationship do not really find satisfaction. He pointed to the durable, but arranged marriages in India. These are not romance: they are practical, stable. There is no expectation of romance; therefore, no need for divorce. Osho was not for marriage, because marriage succeeds. It gives a permanent settlement of the spirit, but it is plastic, man-made. He was all for love because love fails! Here again is the “myth” of love, but with a new twist. No relationship can satisfy this longing. Neither can the tears, nor the flight into beautiful dreams and adventures. The more intelligent one is, the sooner this disillusion will occur. But for Osho this is a blessing to be elicited, because the failure of relationship stimulates a search for the ultimate relationship with existence, with the Kosmos, in a word, God. This is in fact the only true Romance.
This idea of romance clarified the first part of the name Osho gave me, Anand, which means “bliss.” Over the years on this path, I have come to taste the meaning of this name. It is the contrary of separation. I know of no better way to describe bliss than this passage from Rumi:
Throw off your tiredness. Let me show you one tiny spot of the beauty
that cannot be spoken. I'm like an ant that's gotten into the granary,
ludicrously happy and trying to lug out a grain that's way too big.
In this true Romance, one is so blessed that one starts blessing others. One becomes a blessing to the world.
Romance never satisfies, but the longing for romance is the beginning of the search for God. If one goes through enough relationships, a very significant change will happen; one will realize that one has to search in a more basic dimension — the divine. Cultivating and refining this longing through radical experiences of love was the way of the Ruler of the Night.
The key to the success of this ultimate romance is the feminine aspect of the psyche, anciently prized in the East. By “feminine” Osho meant a quiet, deep receptivity to the given in life, to the true purusha nature within, and a radical resolve. It plays an absolutely fundamental role in the process of self-realization. The aggressive intellect can never know God; only receptivity can.
Upon reflection this receptivity is the essence of what is truly revolutionary about my two great modern philosophers. Radical receptivity is the basis of phenomenology, the principle behind Heidegger's new way of understanding Being.Wittgenstein’s effort to overcome the laziness of mind in our use of language means replacing it with a radical receptivity to “what is the case” beyond the delusional linguistic thought forms in which we traffic. Further, this receptivity is the core of the most important skill in spiritual work, the development of the detached witness that simply sees what is so. At one point, Osho told me that his whole effort with his Western disciples was to help them achieve this essential spiritual capacity of receptivity. He provoked us to experience this femininity in many ways: for instance, in the ashram we all had to wear long robes to slow us down so we could experience physically the gracious flow of the feminine aspect.
All of this addressed questions lingering in my mind since that experience of the Ramlila on the banks of the Ganges. I kept thinking of something that had intrigued me early on in my study of Jungian psychology; that the essence of both man and woman is in every human being. Normally, we identify with the (ideal) one that fits our gender, and we submerge the other. Thus a man has a woman hidden within, the anima, who is his true soul. And a woman has a man hidden within, the animus, who is her true spirit. According to Jung, the overarching drive in life is to discover and integrate this lost, hidden part of ourselves. He saw this as the basic principle behind individuation. We do this in many ways, foremost among them, by projecting these lost inner essences on members of the opposite sex when we fall in love. No wonder love is so compelling. It comes out of the central drive in life, to achieve an inner union that is already given at our source, the divine marriage is a reunion.
I had always been aware of a woman in me, not far beneath the surface, but strangely veiled by my identity as a man. When my younger sister was little, I could look into her eyes and know that existence is divine. I have never doubted it since. As she grew older, it seemed as though she was myself in a female form. Often she would say things that seemed to emerge from my own being. She was my soror mystica, my mystical sister. When strangers saw us together, they always assumed we were married. Tragically, in 1989 she died of Hodgkins Disease, but she lives on inside of me, where she was even before she was born.
Other women I have loved have evoked this woman inside, and by relating to them I have lived out the many forces that have urged me to free her and merge with her. The Ruler of the Night spent years helping me in manifold ways to open this inner femininity into the silent receptivity that alone can receive the mystical truth I crave. Osho, master of tantra, confirmed the Jungian theory and vastly expanded it for me. The fundamental premise of tantra is that wholeness is a union of the masculine with feminine elements of the Self. On a psychological and spiritual level, this is the real import of the union of man and woman and the real meaning of romance
All of this flowed into what I had learned about Daoism in my early study of comparative religions. In this ancient Chinese wellspring of religion, the Dao is the “mother of the world”, the way, true spirit, and source, consisting of opposites in harmony. Yin and Yang, the female and male principles, are said to be our "two eyes," the basic composition of the entire Kosmos, inner and outer. The Secret of the Golden Flower is an ancient Daoist tract, whose "secret" is to bring these two eyes into one balanced vision, whereupon we open to our highest spiritual potential, our golden flowering. This, as it turns out is the culmination of the blessing.
From these insights and experiences with meditation, as well as my close associations with the important women in my life, I know that as different as we men and women may be on the surface, there is another place in which we are one. That, it seems clear to me, is the place to discover and call home.
The Universal Romance Form
All of this fed richly into my life. Back in the West I was continuing my work with ORIGINS, using the pattern of the Hero monomyth to work more and more deeply with individuals and groups to help discover the true nurturers in their lives and come to terms with the real saboteurs, and to clarify how these forces of Light and Dark express themselves in the moment to moment choices of their fundamental life pilgrimage. A new, focused receptivity, strengthened by working with Osho, improved my intuitive capacity to analyze these dream/myths as a way of understanding and clarifying the process of ongoing change in the lives of the participants.
Spurred on by my new experience and understanding of the Great Romance and my understanding of the importance for both men and women of integrating the lost receptivity of the feminine principle, another universal form was coming into focus. At this point memories of the mysterious Ramlila came forward, as I began traveling and living a great deal in Southeast Asia. The Ramayana was everywhere, frozen in temple friezes and murals and alive in theater, dance and puppet performances. Seeing it performed over and over, I began to realize that stories of lovers separated and reunited having the same basic form as the Ramayana, exist all over the world. I started to notice them everywhere, every other movie I saw. I also began to see that, like the Hero's Journey, all the parts must be there in order for the story to be successful and convincing. I realized that the story of this epic romance, and indeed all the stories of reunited lovers that humans have cherished throughout history -- the Great Romance -- might constitute another monomyth.
Romance stories became a kind of obsession, but not fueled by longing for true love. Having had more than my share of romantic entanglement, leavened by the theory and practice of the Ruler of the Night, I had given up on the overheated dream of romance as a real vision for meaningful life and settled upon wholesome and enduring companionship.
This detachment freed me to engage in the uniform structure of romance stories, the meaning hidden behind them, and the way they project the nature and form of the Self and articulate the dynamic of change and transformation.
Evolutionary psychology confirmed my inspiration in another way. It is based on the idea that the instinct for survival drives everything. Objectively, the Romance monomyth relates the basic pattern by which reproduction takes place: man joins woman and reproduces. The subjective, experiential expression of this fundament is found in stories of lovers who unite. The psychological concomitant of their universal pattern isJung’s central idea that the human psyche evolves as a relationship between the masculine and feminine aspects of the psyche in a dynamic system evolving in cycles towards fulfillment of its own unique identity, the ongoing rebirth into an evolving self, the principle of individuation.
When the inner man and woman unite, they produce a new being. The drive to accomplish this — physical, psychological, and spiritual — is the volition of everything. Accordingly, I have found that the monomyth of Romance is the actual key to understanding the nature of all psychological development. The Great Romance clarifies the optimal function of the psyche and the nature of psychological and spiritual well-being.
Did this answer the question that set me on my quest -- to understand why the Ramayana is such a fundamental and sacred story in Asia? If Valmiki, who set it to verse, declared that to engage with it is the most sublime blessing, it must be something total and fundamental.
As I began to use this new form in the ORIGINS Process I came to understand that, in a different but parallel way to the Hero monomyth, its laws reflect the universal structure of human change and transformation and thus can be applied very effectively to help people understand how better to negotiate change and adaptation in life. The use of the monomyth in the ORIGINS Process produced amazing results.
This led me to other epiphanies and applications. Individual evolution is embedded in the survival of our species. While the monomyth is a fundamental tool for individual therapy, it also displays the pattern of development in couples and groups. Therefore, it provides a model for analyzing and understanding the underlying evolution of all collectives, including human culture and history. In time I came to see that the Romance monomyth and its elements are the model of all evolutionary development. Because the very nature of reality is dynamic change, survival means adaptation — evolution. This has taken me ever deeper into the hidden meaning of the monomyth and its divine nature.
The Great Romance is a pattern that connects transformation to evolution and the dynamic nature of Being itself.
This book relates this journey of understanding. While much of the inspiration has been found in the library and classroom, the primary research has been empirical. In fact, the ORIGINS workshops have been a laboratory for testing a carefully constructed method and performing a great experiment: Do this and let us observe what happens. By means of this "hands-on" research I have been able to repeat and study the results of this experiment in countless cases. This has been leavened by my investigations and experiences in Europe, India, and Bali of the meaning and significance of the Great Romance in psychological, existential, anthropological, metaphysical and spiritual terms. Each approach is valuable, because there is no one comprehensive theory that "explains" its substance. The Romance is simply too great. Yet all of this significance gets distilled into any story of lovers separated and reunited, and the engagement with this Great Romance constitutes its blessing.
In this book I trace my quest to understand the Great Romance by mapping and examining its universal form, investigating the meaning of that form, and demonstrating its greater application and context as a means of revealing the enlightened vision it contains.
This book is an adventure in archetypal archeology. It is radical in the sense that it returns to the roots of human experience, the primary presence of phenomena and consciousness itself, the sources of language and of human culture.
The Conclusions of the book are based upon various kinds of authority: theoretical, empirical, historical and experiential.
The first source is a lifelong study of literature, psychology, anthropology and philosophy. Many theorists have given great thought to the matters recounted in the introduction. But this book is not a construct of hypotheses or speculations assembled on the authority of other thinkers. There are few footnotes and citations. For the most part, only primary sources are cited.
A second authority is Comparative Religions. I sometimes describe my lifetime of cross cultural and historical study of spiritual traditions as a “world tour”. In relating this quest I have focused upon formulations that are applicable across all traditions. Elements are drawn particularly from Christianity, Hinduism, and Taoism, because they shine light on relevant aspects of the human psyche and spirit and the nature of transformation.
Citations from specific traditions are not intended to promote any particular religion. Despite the fact that I honor and value my own Christian roots, I have no agenda to promote it over any other religious tradition. Any religious path is the best for one who follows it with discrimination and sincere enquiry.
The third, most prominent authority for this work is empirical research. The form of the Romance monomyth itself is derived from comparing countless stories from different traditions and periods of history, some of which are presented in the maps between all the chapters.
The critical empirical authority, however, is the experience of presenting the ORIGINS Process in many workshops over the years. There are no untested hypotheses in this research. My work with the Process has provided countless examples based on one concrete experiment: an individual in a group is given a task, complex, with many steps, which produces results. Every person who has competed a workshop is a case study from which I have been able to formulate my conclusions. However, two case studies, covered in great detail, will give a sense of the richness of information to be found in each and every case.
The third authority is Asian thought. This authority is largely unknown in the West with its underlying commitment to traditional separations between subject and object and antagonism between body and mind. Many of the questions raised by the Great Romance are comprehensible only when illuminated by insights found in Asian thought: in particular the nature of the feminine, the conception of the Person as the ground of Being, the underlying unity of good and evil, and the given natural world as the pure image of given consciousness. These themes are highly developed in archaic traditions such as Chinese Daoism and Hindu Shaivism. In these are to be found clarifications of the ancient roots of the Great Romance that are more useful than anything found in the West and are critical influences in my thinking and understanding. Western reality is the end product of faith and cogitation. Eastern reality is the end product of contemplation. The true synthesis — an ambition represented by this book - brings together both.
Finally, there is the radical empiricism available through structured meditation. In the West, there is no mainstream tradition of contemplating consciousness itself. “Emptiness” and “nothingness” have negative connotations associated with angst and all of its attendant neurotic compulsions. Therefore I believe that what separates me from thinkers grounded exclusively in Western thought is more than anything the years of formal and structured contemplation of my own consciousness. Beyond quantitative information and calculative thinking, clarity comes with the “emptiness” that allows primordial, given structures to emerge into awareness. “Nothingness“ becomes the fullness of the Source.
Very few of the great western thinkers cited in this study have had an actual sadhana, a formal individual practice, such as found in the Asian tradition. Such a practice cultivates the ability to focus and produces emptiness and the pure witness of consciousness itself. These “faculties of silence”, deeply emblematic of the feminine principle, allow the light of the Person, the clarity of gnosis, or given Understanding, to emerge on its own. Over the years as I progressed in this meditation regime, I found that I became clearer and clearer in working with people. I have heard it said that I have “laser eyes”. This is because I do not see, the seeing happens.
The final authority is the Great Romance itself, a form whose teaching seems infinite and whose presence is always with us.
The Nature of the Great Romance and the form of the Book
The Great Romance arises from countless stories displaying the same form. Between each chapter, a famous or significant romance is mapped to display the underlying monomyth. The form is a design that fractally resonates in four dimensions, each of which is covered in one of four Books.
Book 1, The basic form of all stories of lovers separated and reunited.
Book 2. How the form represents cycles of psychological and spiritual transformation.
Book 3. How the form represents cycles of development of interpersonal and collective entities
Book 4. How the form represents a basic view of the dynamic, evolutionary nature of all things and clarifies the relationship to the divine.
These four constitute the blessing.
Each book will conclude with how the Archetype can move us forward. This is what we are in: this is what we should do about it.
Each approach to the Great romance yields its own understanding. We will use many conceptual approaches to explain and describe it, but we will not arrive at a final explanation. Rather we will illuminate the case in different ways with the purpose of building insight as opposed to any conclusive formulation.
How to Read the Book
Book I presents the basic structure of the Romance Monomyth, including some of its more subtle aspects. It can be used as a guide for discovering the basic form underlying any successful story of lovers reunited. It is suggested that the reader pick a favorite story and trace its underlying form as an empirical exercise. Questions at the end of each chapter are guides to assist in this. If any readers are writing a romantic story, they will find the questions an excellent guide for reviewing and enhancing their story.
Each chapter in the entire book presents some aspect of the Great Romance, generally referring to the mapped story preceding the chapter. Once the basic form outlined in Chapter 3 is understood, one can read chapters in any order, but it is always advisable to read the map preceding that chapter.
The best way to read the book is from cover to cover. This is intended to relate a quest to come to terms with the Great Romance, but even more to create an experience of gradually unfolding the blessing that is its revelation.