Preface

This book was almost entirely written in the 1980s when I was still in my twenties. Each chapter, except the one on karma, was originally published as an article in a specialized magazine or journal. The chapters on the Sage, Saint, Yogi, Mother, Wrestler, and Master were first published in Fate magazine between 1984 and 1986. The chapter on Faqir was published in 1982 in Laughing Man magazine. The chapter on the Journey was published in 1986 in the journal, Understanding Cults and Spiritual Movements. And, finally, the last chapter on Karma was written for the Alt.meditation newsgroup on the Internet.

As the reader will immediately notice this work is decidedly romantic and represents a significant departure from my other, more critical writings. All writing and all speech, as Mikhail Naimy so rightly points out in his lovely tale, The Book of Mirdad, is at best an honest lie. We never actually get the whole truth and nothing but the truth when we read books. We get instead partial glimpses, which, if we are lucky, reveal something of the majesty of our existence. But even when certain books unlock an insight at that very same moment they conceal something important from us. Why? Because all symbol systems (from mathematics to Sanskrit) are less than the totality from which they arise and to which they ultimately point.

Although I am mostly known as a skeptic, especially among followers of new religions, I don't think that skepticism is the only approach to life or necessarily the most important vehicle to discover truth. I think we are, as our evolution indicates, a wide spectrum of possibilities and there may well be several ways to approach life's mysteries. One of those approaches which I certainly advocate and champion is interior exploration. That is, the day to day practice of focusing one's consciousness to discover phenomenologically the source from which such awareness arises. This type of practice is usually known in the East as meditation and in the West as ceaseless prayer. In both instances, however, the neophyte is attempting to explore a hitherto unknown world.

Science is in many ways the extension of our five senses to explore the world without. Mystical religion is in many ways the inversion of our senses to explore the world within. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, even though certain scientists and certain religionists have tried to act and argue as if they were. I have chosen to write about these yogis, saints, and sages of India because they are pioneers of "going within." They are heroes of the inner quest. In physics we admire Newton and Einstein because they transformed the way we see the universe without. Likewise, in religion and philosophy we admire a Socrates, a Buddha, a Jesus, a Shankara, a Kabir because they have transfigured the way we see the universe within.

Hence, the underlying bias of this book is that I really do believe there is something beyond the rational mind and that it is worth investing our time and energy in studying it. Now I don't think the reader should buy my line of argument hook, line, and sinker, and somehow believe that what these yogis and saints say is true. Rather, I would enjoin the reader to severely doubt what has been outlined here. Doubt it so much that you would want to conduct the experiment for yourself instead of relying on second-hand reports. Doubt it so much that you would want to learn the necessary technique for consciously inducing a near-death experience to see and hear what mystics have been proclaiming for millennia. Doubt it so much, in sum, that you would want to "test" the veridicality of mysticism itself.

We talk so much of "testing" in the sciences but very few of us ever take up the challenge. Instead we rely on "authorities" to convince us of the truth of calculus, the truth of quantum mechanics, the truth of molecular biology, the truth of evolution. Well, in each of those wonderful endeavors, which have greatly improved humankind's understanding of the universe at large, there comes a point where one has to devote time and energy to understand the intricacies involved. To go within, to engage the voyage of light and sound, to apprehend stages of consciousness beyond the waking state, demands exactly the same tremendous effort that we exert in any academic endeavor.

So this book is actually the natural extension of a truly skeptical mind which believes that science is not so much a body of facts as it is facet of being, an approach to discovery. Yes, there is a science to interior states; yes, there is a method to the madness of mystics. And if we have the courage to follow science in the outer world, we should also have the same courage to follow science in the inner world. To be sure, this book does not tell the whole story, or even a fraction of the adventure, but it does lay out an alternative route for those interested in taking religious claims seriously.

Although each of the mystics mentioned in this book may be partially a product of his/her time (with all the social and human limitations that such contexts entail), they do nevertheless point to something unique in human understanding. They point to a region well beyond the farthest reaches of our telescopes or our microscopes. They point to our very beings. Strange is it not that we have spent almost all of our time looking for the secret of life by extending our senses into the phenomenal cosmos and have spent comparatively little, if any, time probing the source from which these visions first arise. According to sages and saints, we are like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who is trying to find her way back to Kansas only to learn after a long and arduous journey to the Emerald City that, alas, her means of transportation was with her all along--her precious ruby slippers. We too have ruby slippers; it is our very consciousness. By exploring it directly we too may have the ability to go home. That home, the saints argue, is the source of our longing, our yearning, our nostalgia. That home, the saints argue, is our enchanted land.

April 1995

Walnut, California