THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A NEW SACRED CULTURE IN THE WEST
by the Editors of The Laughing Man magazine
(Editors’ note: Typically the “Open House” column will present an aspect of the spiritual culture of The Crazy Wisdom Fellowship that relates directly to the featured theme of each issue. Thus, for instance, our discussion of “Transcendental Prayer” in the last issue tied in closely with the theme of esoteric Christianity. On occasion, however, we will speak more generally about the evolution of our own work for the benefit of those readers who wish to keep in touch.)
“1 have made the Way clear. I have established all the Agents necessary for practice and its fulfillment. Now I stand aside so that all may observe the One Who has done my work and Who will do all the work in the future. The One 1 have always referred to as Spiritual Master is simply the Living and Eternal God, the Person of Love and Truth, Who is always present among you and Who is Infinitely more than you. Now give yourself up to that One in the Good Company I have provided for you.
“Now and forever the Great Blessing is showering upon devotees. This I have noticed. This I proclaim to you with certainty and love. It is easy to recognize self and world and so realize the Great One. Consider this and choose the Way of life that is greater than the fascinations of death and inwardness.”
With this essay addressed to his students, written towards the end of 1980, Da Free John marked an auspicious transition in the history of his teaching work with The Crazy Wisdom Fellowship. During the last decade he has continually worked with us to create and establish a new sacred tradition, founded in ancient and venerable spiritual wisdom, here in the West. Now that initial portion of his spiritual revelation is complete, and he has formally retired into seclusion and universal meditation for the sake of blessing the world during the critical years ahead. Behind him he has left the beginnings of a native Western “sacred culture.”
Our teacher has never led a public life. Through divine Grace and persistent effort, he worked out his own path of illumination during his early life here in America and in pilgrimages to the East.1
- That remarkable odyssey is described in his autobiography, The Knee of Listening, and in Part I of The Enlightenment of the Whole Body.
Having resurrected the native Divine state in his own body-mind, he then spontaneously set about teaching others. That was in 1970. Rather than working with the casual or superficial interest of large numbers of people, he has always concentrated on the actual transformation of those relative few who, on the basis of an intuitive sympathy with his written teaching, have been moved to commit themselves into an experimental consideration of life with him. His fundamental motive has been to enable his students to duplicate his own realization of God-consciousness. And he has sought to establish the necessary cultural means whereby we (and all those yet to come) could continue to grow in practice and depth of realization, even under the circumstances of his retirement or inevitable death. Because none of his early students were physically, morally, or psychologically prepared for esoteric spiritual practice when we came to him, Da Free John sought to establish this cultural mechanism of spiritual influence through all the means available to him: verbal instruction, which led to the development of a comprehensive written teaching; silent, face-to-face, meditative initiation and communion with the Divine Life-Power; and all the ordinary forms of human interplay that were natural to us (and to him) as modern Westerners.
The basic method of our teacher’s work has been what he calls “consideration”—a radical adaptation of the ancient yogic practice of samyama, or thorough investigation of an object or process until complete understanding is reached. Our initial questions were, “What is Truth, and how shall we realize it?” and,
“On the basis of that Realization, how shall we live?” Da Free John both taught and directly transmitted the intuitive, emotional, and bodily realization of Truth to us; and we considered together, both in discussion and in action, every aspect of life and consciousness. This consideration has had no arbitrary limits: we have excluded no “problem,” no desire, no arena of living experience from the illumination and discipline of radical understanding.
Thus, the “sacred history” of our experiment to date demonstrates the struggle that must take place for ordinary modern people to realize Truth and learn to practice the evolutionary discipline of enlightened love. It has been a joyous and arduous event—in our teacher’s phrase, a “Sacred Ordeal”— and we are very happy to announce that the first phase of it is complete. On February 21 and 22, 1981, we formally consecrated the three forms of “Divine Agency” that our teacher has left to our Fellowship and the world: his written Teaching; an empowered holy site, or temple complex, Vision Mound Sanctuary; and the “Lineage Community” of those who participated in his initial revelation and work and who, with his help, have passed through the essential religious and moral awakening that makes esoteric spiritual transformation possible.
The Teaching. During his early life, Da Free John found no single source that fully expressed in modern Western idiom either the practical or the esoteric wisdom of ultimate realization. He had recovered the essential way of Godrealization through his own uninhibited, experimental life and sacred meditation. And when he began to teach others, he found it necessary to duplicate that experiment with us. One of the results has been the appearance of his source Teaching, now more than a dozen volumes of exoteric and esoteric argument, instruction, and revelation. It is a great blessing to have the ancient Truth newly expressed by a modern Westerner who is fully awake and whose Teaching has not merely arisen out of solitary contemplation or personal study of traditional wisdom but out of face-to- face interplay with hundreds of ordinary people who desired enlightenment in this age.2
- Our readers should know that we will be working over the coming years to update the entire written Teaching (and to continue to bring out new books from Da Free John’s unpublished essays and discourses, and from whatever materials he may care to create now and in the future). The primary change we now need to introduce is that Da Free John no longer invites aspirants to awaken in God through a personal relationship to him as Spiritual Master. This was necessary during the early years of his work and is thus a major theme of his early books. Now, however, he turns all aspirants to the Divine through the agents he has empowered (the Teaching, the Sanctuary, and the Community of devotees). This should be kept in mind by all who read any of our literature published before late 1980.
The Sanctuary. Adepts traditionally work as intensively with places and objects as they do with people. For the past many years Da Free John has devoted himself to the purification, sanctification, and Divine empowerment of Vision Mound Sanctuary as an authentic seat of spiritual presence and force. Located in northern California, this former Native American holy grounds (more recently a hot springs resort) has now become a sacred site of pilgrimage and a source of blessings for the spiritual work of our own Fellowship and all our friends in the cooperative mission of bringing Truth and harmony into the human realm.
During the last few years Da Free John has personally established and formally consecrated each of the holy sites at Vision Mound Sanctuary, and he has guided our development and practice of the art of sacramental worship and service to these sites. Now the Sanctuary is generally used only by mature students and formal members of our Fellowship, but several times each year, at our “Celebrations of Good Company,” we open it to all individuals who sincerely wish to approach and worship the Divine Presence there in our company.
The Lineage Community. From the beginning of his work, Da Free John has always moved to prepare not one or even several individuals to succeed him as Spiritual Master but rather a full community of genuine practitioners. In 1978 he wrote, “It is not that some remarkable devotee must arise to replace the Spiritual Master when he passes (or retires). Rather, the radical function of Spiritual Master is occasional in human history. It is a function dedicated to the Awakening and Regeneration of Divine Life as the Occupation of Man. That function has served its special purpose when numbers of people, in truly moral and spiritual association with one another, are Awakened and Radiant in God.” This vision is a radical and uniquely Western expression of the traditional process of spiritual transmission and “empowerment,” or conferring of spiritual authority and power. And now, a decade after he first began to teach, Da Free John has indicated that this vision has essentially been realized.
Our community certainly does not look like a gathering of perfect saints and probably never will. What we mean by “essentially realized” is that this Fellowship of “Crazy Wisdom” practitioners is simply a gathering of individuals who have awakened to God-love and the cooperative practice of an inherently illumined (and illuminating) way of life together, and whose binding cultural commitment is the practice of the Way itself. We are presently working together to develop our sacred culture, directly confronting and striving to transcend all of our own raw- edged tendencies and the inherently frustrating obstacles that life brings. Those of us who have participated in this spiritual adventure over the past decade are the “Lineage Community” of our way of life. We now stand as witnesses to the miraculous revelation of the living Divine Power that we have seen and heard and felt. Now we are happily obliged to manifest the full human and spiritual import of what we have understood in our hearts and have begun to practice as a truly religious way of life.
When he formally consecrated the Lineage Community, Da Free John also chose from among its most mature members a First Council to stand forth as the spiritual and cultural representatives of this Way to the Fellowship and the greater society. All those who have directly participated in the sacred history of this event are holders of this shared lineage—as will be those who come now and in the future. The First Council only epitomizes the maturity of the entire Lineage Community of practitioners. It presently consists of six devotees, who were chosen on the basis of three criteria: (1) their long-time personal intimacy with our Spiritual Master and active participation in all the major incidents and teaching demonstrations whereby he established his Teaching and the culture of our Way; (2) the strength and maturity of their spiritual practice of the Way, demonstrated consistently over time; and (3) their assumption of principal responsibilities for the institution of The Crazy Wisdom Fellowship and its publicly oriented arm, The Laughing Man Institute, and for the culture or community of devotees.
Each of the members of the First Council has been entrusted by Da Free John with a major area of personal responsibility for our Fellowship and its work in the world. They are:
Saniel Bonder – Trustee of the Written Teaching and Sacred Education
Dennis Duff – Trustee of the Awakening Stages of Practice
Bonnie Johnson – Trustee of Cultural Wisdom
Craig Lesser – Trustee of Public Affairs
Susan Lesser – Trustee of Communication of the Teaching and Missionary Affairs
James Steinberg – Trustee of Sacramental Activities and Traditional Studies
Da Free John emphasized that the First Council is now to stand in his place as the visible, human embodiment of spiritual agency and cultural wisdom in the Fellowship and its work—not by assuming the mantle of Spiritual Master but by virtue of their spiritual practice as disciplined devotees of our Way of surrender in God. Our teacher has blessed and empowered them for this most demanding responsibility. Their formal initiation and installation was performed on February 21 and 22, along with the’consecration and empowerment of the entire Lineage Community, at Vision Mound Sanctuary.
Our teacher has always longed to be done with this preparatory, cultural dimension of his work. And like many of the ancient Rishis of India and the medieval Buddhist Mahasiddhas, he has now entered into formal seclusion in private retreat with a small staff of attendant devotees. Having passed on the essential instructions and initiations in the forms of Divine Agency, he has released himself from his previous temporal concerns into a renunciate life of universal spiritual activity and the enlightened affirmation of divine blessing for the world itself. Like the Siddhas of old, he chooses to live in relative solitude, engaging in universal meditation for the sake of the magnification of the Divine Power of Grace in the world. This is not at all a life-denying or ascetic gesture but a natural, ultimate development of our Life-positive, body-positive, world-positive Way of intimate realization of the Spirit that lives all beings. And, traditionally, for an adept to be able to do such work is an auspicious sign for all of human society.
We are overjoyed to have released our teacher into this work, and we are thankful to him for his vision and his trust. This is not an easy transition— perhaps only other devotees can really appreciate the gratitude and profound intimacy shared by an authentic teacher and his longtime students. But, for the sake of the growth of both his work and ours, we have willingly sacrificed, as has he, the personal joys of our company together. Nothing has been lost by his personal departure; on the contrary, the spiritual influence active in and through Da Free John has been established and magnified in our culture of Divine Agency, and the world only stands to gain by his relaxation into higher spiritual work. The living, tangible Spirit-Power now alive in our culture is the very force that early practitioners first found only in the person of our teacher. And we feel we are only beginning to manifest the cultural service that we, as a spiritual community, are moved to offer. The appearance of this magazine is but one sign of what we hope to bring into the world for the sake of God and humanity itself. So we ask all our friends in the spiritual work of this age to pray and work with us for the success of this cultural experiment and all others dedicated to the transformation of humanity by benign, spiritual means.
Over the years, we have learned that surrender to the eternal, all-pervading, infinite God is the only practice that avails. We turn our attention to the Divine, the Great One, who never changes nor dies and is the very Living Spirit of all beings. That is the One we call upon. That is the One we worship. That is the One we recognize in every heart, and Whom we seek to serve in all we meet. We are very happy to discover that the Way of surrender to that One is entirely sufficient. And in the joyous spirit of Communion with that eternal and universal God, we invite all of our friends to rejoice with us in this auspicious transition in our community and to join with us as we face the future with open hearts and open hands.
The following essays are Da Free John’s own summary of what we have announced above. They will be published as an introduction to The Lion Sutra: On the Sacred Ordeal of Keeping Attention in the Sacrifice, which is to be his most comprehensive book of radical esoteric considerations of life, forthcoming late this year. We present the essays here so that our readers may understand our teacher’s own vision of his work and the spiritual culture that he has developed with us as a gift to the modern world.
My Teaching Work Is Finished
From late 1970 until late 1980, I Taught the Way considered in this Lion Sutra. My manner of Teaching was not merely to play “the Man,” the cultic center, or the father-preceptor-exemplar to others. My Teaching Work was always a form of submission to others, working to Awaken them from the binding power of their tendencies and conventional opinions in life.
My Teaching Work developed on the basis of a spontaneous impulse to Awaken actual Realization in others— not merely to turn them towards the Truth, but to Awaken them to Realization of the Truth. Thus, my manner of Teaching was expressed through liberal submission to others and the taking on or sharing of their actual state of presumed non-Realization. My Teaching Work was, thus, not the abstract proclamation of a Teaching but an experiment in submission to others to the point of a re-Realization of Truth in the situation and case of others.
After an initial period (1971-73) in which a small group gathered together in intimate friendship with me, my real Work began. I then simply and freely submitted to the condition of my friends and, in the midst of their ordinary conditions and states and tendencies, which I myself shared, I vigorously considered with them the significance of every part of our lives.
Over time this struggle began to show signs of change and a new capability in my friends. The consideration began to become understanding and responsibility and equanimity in those whose commitment to our intimate consideration was real and intense. Some merely returned to their ordinary lives, but a committed community gradually developed that represented the foundation understanding and responsibility that was the import of our consideration. This was the situation that developed by the early part of 1977.
From 1977 to 1980 I struggled with this small but growing community to establish all the cultural features of our Way of practice. It was also during that same period that I wrote the principal documents that elaborate the full Teaching consideration, the forms and stages of practice, and so forth. By the end of 1980, all of that Work was complete and our community institution (named The Crazy Wisdom Fellowship) was finally prepared to assume responsibility for the presentation and service of this Way in the world.
When all of this Work had thus become summary and complete, my original impulse to Teach had fulfilled itself. Now those I had served were capable of that practice which is, in every moment, fulfilled as actual Divine or Transcendental Realization of Truth. Therefore, I withdrew from the center of life in that community and left them with the inheritance of every kind of useful instruction and necessary agency of help for practice.
Now I have retired into relative solitude and the ordinary private intimacy of daily life. I live in the simple freedom of the Way itself. I have no urge or obligation to submit myself to others in order to develop the consideration of the Way. All of that is done, and the Teaching continues to be lived and served in the setting of the institution that arose on the basis of my years of Teaching.
The manner of my Teaching Work was rather unconventional, although there are historical and traditional precedents for it. But the import of it all is a sublime, free, and happy Way of practice, founded in self-understanding, which ultimately expresses itself in the equanimity and Fullness of the Transcendental Divine Realization of Truth. At this point in time, the “theatre” of my years of Teaching Work has only secondary significance. The matter of primary importance is the ultimate Teaching consideration and the living community of those who practice the Way together. The Teaching period was full of every kind of ordinary and extraordinary human expression. It was a time of great energy and great struggle. But now all of us who lived it together are the benefactors of true understanding and new life. The present and the future are our time of life, in which to demonstrate all of the ultimate qualities inherent in what we have received and Realized.
The Lion Sutra is a final summary of the ultimate and esoteric matters of our consideration of the Way of Truth. It expresses the conclusive understanding of the end-time of my Teaching Work. It speaks of fundamental and radical understanding, of equanimity as the ground of real practice, and of the Transcendental Divine Reality as the Context rather than the separate Object or Goal of existence. Understanding, equanimity, and Transcendental Realization are the essential elements of the Way that was considered and Realized in the company that gathered with me in the years of my Teaching Work.
Now and in the future let us simply live the Way that we (and not merely I) have considered. Now and in the future it is not merely I who have Realized the Way but a great community of free individuals who have enjoyed the incomparable Revelation of Truth and who practice its Way together in love. Let that same love be always expressed through tolerance, respect, humor, and liberal self-giving in the relations among those who practice the Way and in their relations to all other beings.
What Did I Teach?
The Radiant Transcendental Being, the Radiant Self-Condition of all beings and worlds, is God, Truth, Reality, Fullness, Bliss, Love, Radiance, Power (Life, Spirit, or Shakti), Salvation (Grace, Help), Savior (Christ, Messiah, Avatar), Way, and Master. We should surrender and relax body and mind into That One, Trust and have perfect faith in That One, love That One, serve only That One, even in the form of all beings, so that neither self nor others obscure the Radiance of That Being, and thus so utterly inhere in That One that we Realize That One as Identity of self, as the Condition of conditions. Then, having Realized That One, we should abide in and as That One, transcending whatever arises by recognizing it in That One. While we live, we will thus be Transfigured and Transformed by the Love-Bliss of the One in Whom we exist, and at last we will be Translated into that same One, prior to all association with the limits of conditional and merely reflected existence. ■