An outstanding scholar, a brilliant poet and a mystic to the core, Andrew Harvey is an internationally renowned spiritual teacher who has the rare ability to connect you to the essence of all the paths and to encourage you to find your unique way into a sacred activism which truly serves the whole of life. He has founded the Institute for Sacred Activism and has written more than thirty books, his latest publication Engoldenment: A Year with Kabir just came out.
His voice provides truthful and loving support in the tremendously challenging times we are in, acknowledging both the agony we are facing as well as the immeasurable treasure which can be found therein. YOGA AKTUELL asked him to share some of his genuine insights on the collective dark night we are going through.
While humanity has been facing dark nights all throughout history, we are now experiencing a global dark night of previously unknown extents and qualities. How would you – in its essence – describe this process we are in?
Andrew Harvey: I think there are two fundamental aspects of this truly terrible dark night that we are now in. The first aspect is that this dark night is created by us out of our hybris, our madness, our separation from the Eternal and our separation from nature and from ourselves. And it is the direct karmic consequence of thousands of years of ignorant action. It is now erupting in a devastating way that truly does threaten us with extinction. We must understand that if we do not learn the very challenging lessons that this dark night is trying to teach us, we will die out. That’s the first aspect.
In many ways that’s the most challenging for human beings to accept, because we are drunk on pride, we are blind to what we have done and still are doing, and we are in many ways still convinced that in our current consciousness we have all kinds of possible solutions. This is not true. In our consciousness – however elevated that might be – all the solutions that we might propose will fail. Because the characteristic that is most devastating about this aspect of the dark night is that it annihilates everything that we imagine we are, we know and we can effect.
The second aspect is what brings very deep and very challenging hope. The second aspect is only understandable if you really enter into the truth of the great mystical systems which know, from inner experience, that the dark night is actually the necessary birth canal for a whole new level of embodied Divine consciousness. In all of the major traditions it is known that on a certain high level of the path the seeker will be invited and challenged to die into life – to die into God. And this challenge is always horrifying for the seeker, because it entails and brings in an incineration of all the illusions, fantasies, and pride that the seeker is still stained by. No one who has ever attained Divine consciousness and embodied it has ever not gone through this devastating process. But the wonderful, good news for us potentially at this time is that if you know this through the grace of the mystical systems, then you’ll be given the eyes to see that horrifying and unprecedented as this crisis is, precisely because it is so horrifying and unprecedented, it contains this golden seed of an amazing and unprecedented possibility which is that if we can align with the lessons of the dark night, go through the dark night, become humble and unified and ready to put love into action on every level, and truly realize that we are in extreme danger – but not panic, trust in God and go forward –, we will be transfigured and we will be born together through the grace of the Divine into a unified embodied Divine humanity. In other words, what the whole world is going through at this moment is what great individual mystics have gone through in previous ages. This is a vast mystical evolutionary event that we are living in and the price for the next level of our potential evolutionary destiny is dying to what we have been and what we have done through suffering completely the agony of what is now exploding all over the world.
So paradoxically, it is agony and mercy at the same time?
I call it savage grace. There is a magnificent sacred saying in the Islamic tradition. This sacred saying was given to the prophet Mohammed, and in this saying God says: “When you have proved yourself sincere, I will kill you personally. And because I will kill you personally, I will pay the blood money. And what I will give you is Myself.” Everything you need to know about the dark night is in those astounding words. Instead of thinking of this terrible dark night we are living through only as a karmic retribution for our horrible stupidity, we also can begin to think of it as a sign that now, through all the powers we have accumulated as a human race, we are ready to be liberated by the dark night so we can use those powers – not in the service of domination of nature, not in the service of tribalism, not in the service of fundamentalist religion, not in the service of ruining the world through our greed, but in the service of co-creating with the Divine a holy new way of being and doing everything. If we are prepared, armed with authentic knowledge, to go through this dark night holding each other, having compassion for each other, really attuning ourselves to the revelations that will be given to us by God in this dark night, then something amazing and astounding is possible for us through this savage grace which is that we will be initiated into the fullness of our Divine human truth and will be given by Divine mercy absolutely unprecedented powers of creativity, compassion, passion and the new knowledge that we will need to heal the disasters that we have created. Everything depends on understanding at the deepest and humblest level exactly what you said: That this agony – horrific though it is – is a very intense and focused form of grace.
An analogy might be this: When someone is very badly burned, a surgeon that specialises in treating burned patients cannot anaesthetise this patient, because if they do, they will cut to deep – they won’t cut perfectly. So the horrifying operation has to be done with the patient conscious and in extreme pain to be able to save the patient’s life. That is what is happening in our world. The Divine has decided that the time four our transfiguration has come. The Divine knows exactly how to do this operation on our human selves incinerated by egotism and greed, madness and pride, and the Divine will not relent, because the Divine knows that we are the AIDS in the body of gaia – we are destroying the life of the soul, we are annihilating the creatures, we are degrading the seas, we are creating systems of unspeakable violation and cruelty. But the Divine still loves us absolutely and also knows that the very powers that we are using for destruction can be transfigured by this ruthless operation It is doing in the dark night and so become ways in which we as human beings can collaborate and co-create humbly and joyfully with the Divine in creating an absolutely new way of living and absolutely new scientific, artistic, economic, political structures that, through Divine grace and our illumined participation in it, will give birth to what Jesus called the kingdom: a harmonious way of living in the Divine presence, in joy and peace and compassion on this earth.
So there absolutely is a most beautiful silver lining…
It’s a golden lining. It is the meaning of the whole of human evolution. The greatest mystics of humanity – and this is true for all traditions – have known that the end of humanity is to be divinized in heart, mind, soul and body. Sri Aurobindo knew this, the great Kabbalists knew this, Jesus came to give this secret to humanity, the great Kabir knew it and called it engoldenment, the Shaivite mystics know this, the Vajrayana mystics know this. But all of these evolutionary mystics also know that the way to this engoldenment, this golden lining, is through a dying process, a dying to the old so the new can be born. You cannot and must not – and the Divine will not – put new wine into old bottles. The old bottle has to be broken, and that process is both in the individual mystic’s life and in the life of evolving humanity absolutely devastating, because anything short of absolute devastation of the old will leave some of its roots alive that could corrupt the new creation.
Think of a forest fire: Forest fires are horrific – many trees and animals die – and yet the result of them is to fertilise and refresh the ground so that even more trees can grow and even more animals can live in joy in the forest. The Divine works like this. And we have to accept that paradoxical majestic working if we are going to have a hope in heaven of truly learning how to negotiate this extreme crisis and how to stay in a state of peace, joy and clarity and of passionate commitment to pouring ourselves out in loving action, however bad the situation becomes and whether you and I or anyone survives or not. That is the way that is before us. It is the ancient way and it is the eternal way. It is a savage grace, but we need to humble up, do very deep inner work and to commit to sacred activism on a global scale.
It takes a lot of courage – and maybe courage that many of us have not yet found within ourselves – to truly surrender to this dark night…
It is both the problem and the opportunity. The problem has been that in adoring science too much and in living in our human ego too abandonedly, we have cut ourselves off from the fundamental sources of our strength. The real strength of the human being that provides the foundation of profound courage does not lie in the ego, it lies in the inmost self that is directly connected to the Divine reality. So everyone now is challenged by the depth and the agony of this crisis to understand finally and forever that the only way to find out how brave you can be is if you take the journey urgently and sincerely to find out who you really are. And who all of us really are, all of the great traditions tell us is nothing less than the Divine Self itself. You and I and everyone else are unique expressions, infinitely diverse, but infinitely interconnected, of the one eternal embodied and transcendent Divine Self. This is not poetry. I know this to be true and hundreds of thousand, if not millions of human beings over the ages have awoken to this truth and lived from its beauty, joy, passion and commitment to loving others.
So if you do not feel you have the courage now, do not despair. In the mystical traditions you will find so much inspiration and you find the authentic vision that I’ve been describing. And even more importantly, you will find simple practices that – if you do them with sincerity – will reveal to you the truth of your real nature and fill you with a peace and a joy and a calm and with a blazing and tender courage that you never imagined you could have, because as long as you were identified with your false identity you would never be able to imagine them. But when you come into the humble glory of who you really are, they are natural to that glory and they flow from you.
But don’t believe me or any of the mystics of humanity – dare to find this out now for yourself. Because if you don’t, no one can help you. This is a path you have to decide for yourself, inspired by the great ones who have come before you. And it’s a path that exists, but you have to take it – step by step.
And the other thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that there has never been more grace pouring down from the Divine to humanity than at this moment, when the Divine is destroying one humanity to birth another. Terrifying though this time is, it is also a time in which the Divine is making accessible all the treasures of all the mystical traditions, all the sacred technology that the mystical traditions have to offer humanity and giving humanity the urgent crisis in which it will be compelled, if it is at all intelligent, to take this path which the Divine will help it on with unprecedented mercy and love. Because the Divine knows exactly where we are, exactly what we need, and is providing us both the terrible and the beautiful circumstances that we require to be born into the next level of our identity.
So Divine support is always available to us as soon as we reach out coming from a sincere place?
There is something even more amazing that all real mystics know, and it is that even if you, trembling and confused, take only one step towards a mystery that you don’t have any knowledge of, that mystery will take ten thousand steps towards you. It is waiting for you to take the first step to flood you with grace.
And again: This is not poetry – you will experience that. Because the love that it has for you is unimaginably more beautiful, intense and holy than anything you could yet begin to know. That’s the first thing. The second thing, and I think this is very important, is that because the situation is so extreme and because the need for transformation is so urgent – we truly are running out of time, we are hanging on a burning thread – the Divine has made it clear through many of its greatest mystical messengers that human beings of our times should choose very simple practices. These have, because of the grace that is flooding on us from the Divine, unprecedented power at that evolutionary moment.
I suggest three that everyone can do:
The first is prayer. And if you want to pray most effectively just talk to God – as you are, from your heart. You can say: “I feel so depressed, despairing and paralyzed. Help me. Show me the way to heal myself so I can be strong.” Just speak nakedly to God and you will find that life will reply to you. Help will come.
The second practice that everyone can do is simple meditation: just sitting in the morning when you wake up for twenty minutes, being mindful of your thoughts. At first you might find this very boring and uncomfortable. But if you are humble enough to persist, you discover that there is a mind in you that is very spacious and quiet. That is the witness consciousness that can truly help you identify that you are not your normal mind or thoughts, but your essential identity is the watcher of those thoughts. And this knowledge, as it grows, will give you greater clarity, deep peace and compassionate skill with others.
The third practice which all of the evolutionary mystics who knew that we would come to this terrible amazing moment have proclaimed as the most powerful of all practices is to simply say – silently, in the depth of your heart – the name of God. It can be any name – if you are Christian say Jesus, if you are Hindu say Durga or Kali, if you are a Buddhist and you don’t believe in the creator God say one of the great Buddhist mantras that connect you with the essential truth, if you are a Sufi say Allah. If you don’t want to say any of the established names, say a name that is sacred to you. When you say the name with deep humility and deep adoration in the core of your heart, you will discover what all of us who have done this practice for years have discovered: the name will focus the powers of Divine mercy, grace and truth on your whole being and begin to change you and reveal to you mysteries in a way that you cannot now even begin to imagine, but that will make you want to laugh out loud and make you want to dance like you were Tina Turner.
These three simple practices will transform you. My advice to everyone is to start doing these practices in the core of your life right now, because things are going to get much more terrifying very soon. We are heading into the eye of this great evolutionary storm. But don’t let that make you despair. Let it make you more focused, more urgent, more loving, more trusting, more generous towards yourself – and more humble to the Divine.
Besides an inner or personal spiritual practice, the other pillar which is of utmost importance right now is sacred activism which you are deeply passionate about.
A timeless source of inspiration for our leap into spiritual activism is the work of Kabir whose poems you have translated and now published in your latest book Engoldenment: A Year with Kabir.
I am so passionate about bringing this book out to every sacred activist as in Kabir’s vision you will find everything that I have been saying put with the unspeakable majestic authority of someone who really knows three things: First, waking up in Benares in the 15th century, he knew that humanity was in kali yuga, in the last age, and that there would be unspeakable destruction and perhaps even distinction if humanity did not wake up. He also knew that humanity had to go beyond all of its structures, concepts and dogmas, because all the religions trapped humanity instead of releasing it into its fundamental direct relationship with eternal reality. So he was a complete revolutionary already embodying the universal mysticism that is now being born. And the third thing he knew – and this is what is so astounding and so important – is that the dark night is the birth canal for engoldenment, for the birth of the Divine human. And he knew it, because he lived it. In his work he gave us the complete map that we now need. The wonderful and glorious thing about Kabir is that he speaks totally simply, completely nakedly, without any mask. He is not hiding behind any dogma, he is not hiding behind any fancy Sanskrit words, he is just staring into our eyes and telling us he truth – sometimes fiercely, sometimes calmly, sometimes ecstatically, but always in total presence. Kabir is the messenger that God has sent to us to lead us through the dark night into engoldenment.
There is one more thing that is for me very holy about Kabir, and that is that Kabir was an absolutely committed sacred activist. He did not merely achieve enlightenment and then achieve engoldenment through Divine grace, he put his realization into practice. And he lived it in two main ways: First he was absolutely courageous and risked his life again and again. He denounced the craziness of all religious fundamentalism, and that was a very dangerous thing to do in ancient India. So for a very long time his life was in danger, until they realized that he was awakened and there were so many people loving him that they could not do anything about him. But he did not worry about whether he was going to survive or not, because he knew that everything was at stake and he gave everything.
And the second thing that moves me so much and should move everybody was that, like Saint Francis, Kabir was absolutely committed to having the human race recognize the holiness of animals. Kabir raged and railed against all meat eating and all killing of animals, whether it was by Hindus or Muslims, because he knew that not only was our killing of animals the sign of our deepest depravity and of our complete unawareness of the holiness of the creation, he knew that if we continued to murder the animals in a worldwide genocide, the karma of that terrible murder would return to us and wipe us out, because you cannot murder life on such a scale without life having to murder you because you are so dangerous.
My deepest sacred activism, my own private sacred activism is an activism on behalf of animals. In my public life I work for environmental consciousness, for women’s rights, for gay rights, for political and economic transformation, but in my private life I dedicate myself to helping animals in any way that I can – from standing up for the white lions in Africa to supporting the many people who do an amazing work in rescuing animals here in America and to writing about the vision that Kabir and Saint Francis have given us about how we need to really recognize that animals are just as holy and sometimes far wiser than us and how we have to start kneeling at their feet to learn the extraordinary and beautiful lessons that they have to teach us.
We are ending with the matter most dear to my heart. Thank you so much for the deep truth you shared.
Engoldenment: A Year with Kabir: 366 Timeless Poems (available on Amazon)