By 1980, our collective lack of transcendental insight made it so that a lot of Stephen's talks were just something that you would listen to on Sundays and not hardly discuss with anyone for the rest of the week. Considering our practical orientation and the daily affairs of life, these considerations were somewhat superfluous and incomplete.
The intentional short-circuiting of the thinking mind is a technique that has been employed throughout history by people who for one reason or another, have an interest in reconditioning consciousness. To guarantee the integrity of the process wherein there is a temporary suspension of habitual thought and perception for the sake of effecting transformation at deeper levels of the mind, aspirants will often live in a sanctuary where they will not be threatened by the unscrupulous nor continually distracted by social complications of organic survival. A workable code must be accepted to insure a life situation that will allow members to meet the challenges posed by existence on a planetary surface and protect the physical, psychic and spiritual values of the community. Obviously, these demands must be met first or there will be no community at all. But in failing to evolve our dialogue and symbology beyond the provisional ground rules for peaceful co-existence, this code was mistaken for the holy Dharma itself. Without a more sophisticated and thorough articulation of the Way, a folksy species of post-psychedelic eco-survivalism became the basis underlying all conscious agreements effectively defining general life concerns and helped formulate a common spiritual attitude for the body of the Farm.
The community provided a haven for the potential evolution of a spiritual practice which was never properly developed beyond a rudimentary obligation to furthering our growth as a hybridized media-darling social movement. While going about the business of building an ark, we grew so preoccupied with our mission and the thunderheads on the horizon that we could only manage to preserve our spiritual life in its most diminutive form.
With no techno-shaman to strategically orchestrate events at the proper intervals, to initiate and sustain resonances in the mandala so that the total configuration would spontaneously obviate subtle fixations, affording individuals an occasional glimpse from the higher stages inevitably catalyzing insight and transformation, the casualty of transmission meant that the suspension of our intellectual and spiritual growth was to be prolonged indefinitely. Our inner practice became indistinguishable from maintaining rudimentary ethics and little else. There was no master behind this koan.
I know magic and esoteric practices, some Hindu, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Shinto and whatnot, but most of my time is put into loving one another and getting along together, trying to make something like the Farm work.
In abandoning cultivation of our higher intellect, this 'practical' orientation to horizontal life severely neglected the vertical dimension of existence as evidenced in the absence of daily meditation, or any ritualized use of psychedelics to cultivate awareness of the more feeling, intuitive aspects of mind. With no love of inquiry, we sink into the reductionism of conditional consciousness approaching the field of experience as the moral ego-self without any clear admonition or empowering means to further embrace the practice of self-transcendence.
As the Farm's teacher, Stephen tried to educate us. The general form of our dialogue with him was in mass meetings, usually during the time after meditation on Sunday mornings. In real life application, the practices as given and lived fostered a Farm world-view which grew increasingly narrow and out of spirit with bodhisattva ideals.
Ten years after leaving the Farm I began to re-read Stephen's books, looking for any patterns I might have overlooked and was struck by frequent reference to 'superstition'. To a degree, it was a running, even occupational, concern. The general lack of knowledge and experience throughout the membership naturally required guidance and instruction and Stephen was offering us his best, but the english on his straight pitch made it a little difficult to tell where to draw the line sometimes. Our own lack of Dharmic depth and definition was reflected in a regular emphasis on what we were definitely not about. Without a more complete system of knowledge, cognitive intensity, it was not clear to many people exactly what we believed outside of some very basic truths, such as, the golden rule, as ye sow and 'we're all one.'
Stephen's most elaborated teachings were concerned with the phenomenon wherein beings unethically appropriate the energy of others, which was called being 'into the juice' or 'on ripoff', and he offered an elementary education in transactional analysis to help clarify the dynamics of our communication. To control the expression of anger was the main teaching concerning the emotion for a dozen years on the old Farm. True knowledge and discourse relative to the transforming that energy and the language of the higher stages of life was random and fragmented.
In an effort to get a better understanding of the concept of superstition, I turned to a dictionary where the first definition centered around 'belief founded on irrational feelings' which immediately conjured a mental image of Stephen in a purple cape with a medallion on his chest doing battle with Haight Street magicians. In light of our preference for a more 'rational' or non-mystical path, I also looked up the word dogma where it is defined as a set of ideas adopted on authority rather than on the basis of one's own reasoning or experience.
Beyond the relative usefulness of these meanings in generating some ironic associations, I got a sense of the way in which superstition is always relative to dogma, even if it is not understood to be such, and that you can often infer something about the dogma from studying the gamut of things that are described as being superstitious.
Our bias was to identify exclusively with the thinking self and confine the primary exchange of energies to the concerns and modalities associated with chakras below the heart. The socialization and domestication of devotional intensity played down heart-centered practices, neglecting the mystical openings of the higher chakras. And of course, there were real life consequences.
The evidence of our failure to activate and regularly commune through higher circuits could be clearly seen in the virtual destruction of any sense of solidarity or brotherhood between the men when the Farm's radical collectivity was terminated and the work crews were disbanded late in 1983. It was not a matter of new revelations, subsequent visions or subtle metaphysical differences which determined the end. The dissolution of these 'guilds' represented the final fission of the old Farm, as such cadres had become the real atom of our church. Once the collective bond was dissolved and everyone had to start earning their own way, the basis of the faith also gave way, not having any more profound definition or practice.
People who know me know that my path has been that my path has been to try to study simplicity.
Our collective aspiration, the idealized reflection of our 'true guru', had wings on it's heart and so did many of us a lot of the time. On the other hand, having actually lived beyond those segments of the flow which may be discerned through any book on the subject, I was also witness to a smug, fairly indiscriminate humor which developed in the community regarding the viability of other ways and teachings. A complementary appreciation and serious evaluation of those teachers who were offering more profound transmissions, was seriously neglected.
Stephen had once quoted Psychology Today as saying, '...for there to be so many counterfeiters, there must be such a thing as gold.' No doubt, but the ability to recognize the real thing, even in its unrefined state was a discrimination that most of us lacked, except in a very rudimentary way. The professed gold which we were offered on the Farm was the product of a limited insight into the self-nature, a relative enlightenment that was reductionist in flavor and effect. In the fall of 1983 while the Farm was in the midst of reactive chaos, Tenkar and I met with Stephen and Ina May in a hotel room high above mid-town Manhattan where we ate pizza while he told us, 'I've always said that there were people on the Farm who couldn't tell the difference between me and Sun Myung Moon.'
Stephen's own account of how he came to be in the position of teaching is illuminating in this regard
I was minding my own business on Haight St., quietly trying to blow my mind, and I heard a bunch of teachers come out telling the folks a bunch of teachings, and a lot of it was so dumb and so superstitious and so destructive and so backward and unteaching from reality, that I felt the least I could do was to step forward and start talking...
In the beginning of his teaching work in San Francisco, Stephen was serving a lot of young people who were coming on to the energy of psychedelics without the normal period of apprenticeship and preparation which is common praxis in traditional shamanic societies. As a result, their psychological background and moral development was often immature, making them extremely vulnerable to re-imprinting any number of new realities. As a popular Christian magazine printed in an article on the Haight in the summer of 1967, '. . . they are a rootless community that makes a fetish of having no leaders (and thus) may easily be mobilized by an unscrupulous leader.'
By the end of the Summer of Love, the Haight had devolved into a theater of bad drugs, black magicians and paranoia. Stephen continued teaching Monday Night Class. Being one of the older hippies on the scene, he felt responsible to help protect the innocent and provide people with a basic education for navigating these straits. His offering in that space and time seemed like an incredibly clear and bright light in an otherwise dark place, to hundreds of young people.
When all this started, my consciousness was reduced to zilch, zero, and I crawled back up many times, caught myself putting it back together wrong, and kicked it down again, and didn't accept one until I found a direction of growth I felt I could live with, and rejected all of the a priori assumptions of mankind, and put them back together as they were needed....
In the manner of his definition we can see the basic dualism between the operative consciousness of the thinking mind and the relative emptiness or formless bliss which in the highest sense would be the equivalent of conditional nirvakalpa samadhi. By regularly voyaging and oscillating back and forth between these two poles, he was travelling the rainbow bridge in an effort to purify whatever subconscious obscurations remained. Ultimately, it was his own mind, the aggregate to be purified itself, which decided when the work was sufficiently accomplished. Outside of the attainment of complete, unsurpassed enlightenment, the limitations in such a process eventually became obvious.
By his own admission, Stephen rebuilt himself according to his own specs. Intuition was the sole guide which led him to submit himself to the discipline of a psychedelic yoga in the first place. The precise standards for the form of consciousness which he would accept and use as the working basis for the creation of the Farm was his best approximation of what mankind needed. Like so many of us in the process of developing a cosmology, he would trip, observe, reflect and then read while scanning for meaning, adding a metaphor here and borrowing a key concept from there, compiling a working philosophy from any and all sources according to the evolution of his understanding and the apparent needs of the moment.
I am the only one who can build what I want built, so I'm going to have to continue tripping until I build something I am satisfied with. And if I don't like this one, I will wait seven days and trip again.
This is a very heroic attitude. I know it myself. At the same time, I think that we have to be aware of the probability that the judgments and discriminations of dualistic mind will be extremely subject to the influences of egoity and subconscious predispositions be they ever so subtle, that will tend to obstruct the current of wisdom. One might figure that this intentional focusing and clarification of the will and life-attitude would eventually shed some light on the limits to spiritual transformation inherent in such an overly 'rational' and self-conscious approach , but in spite of all his short-comings, in the apocalyptic fervor of the Haight, Stephen's teachings were a very positive contribution in the direction of balance and light, encouraging and preparing young alchemists to be aware and apply a more scientific method to their investigations. In the course of an effort to clarify what was valuable and holy from what was worthless and even harmful, he helped prepare a lot of young folks to extract and crystallize the spiritual essence of their visions.
Paradoxically, due to an overzealous housecleaning some very precious pieces were summarily thrown out with the rest of the trash. Many useful aspects of the traditional wisdom teachings, particularly those relating to the awakening of consciousness in the higher centers, such as ritual devotional exercises, the domain of mystical inquiry and symbolic transmissions wherein the nature of ultimate reality is perfectly intuited, were summarily rejected as unnecessarily arcane, complex and superstitious. In lieu of these 'idols', we took up a position as the thinking and experiencing self within the brain-mind so that our reification of the world as perceived by the senses was confused with, rather than realized to be transcendentally identical with, the non-dual truth of the absolute nature or Great Emptiness.
Stephen's reductionist version of spiritual practice midwifed our intellectual asceticism:
Well, the thing about all those religions is that you can stack them all up together like IBM cards, and you can look at them and see which holes go all the way through. And that's the trip we're trying to to do, the one with the holes that go all the way through.
To expand on this metaphor, consider every one of those cards to represent a religion. The patterns are different on each of them. When they are stacked, there are only a certain number of holes that align so that they seem to go all the way through every card. But each card will also have patterns on it that are unique. Consider that these 'unique' patterns will usually differ radically from religion to religion and may even vary slightly across time and space within a tradition, but that they are integral to the wholeness of any true path. Rather than consider them irrelevant idiosyncrasies and superstitions which have only a secondary importance for a working understanding of a path, say that they represent the advanced teachings which are approached differently by different schools. Like the amateur mechanic who remantles an engine and comes up with a few extra bolts and such, Stephen's reductionist oversight of the meaning and importance of those 'extra holes' imply that radical realization was not our focus. The holes that go all the way through were the basic ground rules of non-violence, friendliness, honesty, and the general moral code which was practiced on the old Farm. The work that we were attempting was geared to our level of preparation.
The reality tunnel of the conceptual-sensory mind was our favorite loka. Mysticism and spiritual ecstasies were uncultivated luxuries. Mantra was rock and roll. Tantra was secularized and domesticated for the sake of the revolution.
In the following statement, Stephen tries to account for one of the causes of rampant superstition. This is one of those ironic prophecies in the form of a state of the union address, which deserves careful study:
...there is a considerable amount of superstition going around. I think that rationalization among other things, is one of the causes of superstition, because all that rationalization throws so much slop into the system that it's hard to tell accurately what went on. That causes you to have a spacey view of what is going on, and your spacey view of what's going on would have a tropism... to fill up with wish-fulfillment.
To the extent that we are clinging to a model, a view, or a doctrine, our insecurity may suggest that everything which lies beyond the parameters of our understanding, is to be either feared or ignored. Forms that lie outside our spectrum of meaning may be labelled superstitious, and some are quite obviously so. Other beliefs may be deemed superstitious because they are based in a higher logic or a superior spiritual technology which one has no access to as yet. It has been said that today's magic is tomorrow's science. The old Farm's general lack of inquiry in the higher sense made it too common for us to just nod our heads and keep working.
The tendency to hold to a conservative rationalism creates superstition insofar as the rational mind itself is superstitious in the original Latin sense of the word; excessive fear of the gods, tenaciously clinging to forms and identities in fearful reaction to the vast and mysterious power of the non-rational universe that it arises in. At the same time, the failure to evolve a real yoga of discrimination relative to both the higher and lower dimensions of existence blinds the 'rational' observer to a wide range of phenomena and information which is automatically rejected as 'occult' or subjective regardless of its validity. 'Rational' and 'superstitious' thus become two symbols for opposing arguments, with one's own view usually being that of rationality and the ridiculous position of your opponent being invariably superstitious.
Rather than give a list of examples citing Stephen's attempts to sophisticate us in relation to heretical views, it may simply be said that he wanted to clear away all the cobwebs of misunderstood spirituality, the superficiality of irrelevant indulgence in exotic cultural forms and the disintegrated remnants of primitive magical lore to create a clean and open space for something brand new to happen in. Throughout these efforts, it was enlightenment, not exceedingly good intentions, that was lacking. Iconoclasm may fall on the heels of revelation, but as the most deluding idols are invisible to dualistic vision, Stephen's exorcism was not quite thorough enough.