New Age Movements, archive file
Here is a companion piece to ‘New Ages’ (previous post), from the second edition to WHEE, “New Age Movements”.
I have nothing against the New Age, as such, but when the strain of anti-modernism kicks in it is important to grasp that the authority of gurus is bogus.
Note: the XE “xxxxxx” stuff in the essay is the indexing mark up from Word, which WordPress can’t handle. Just jump over it.
The generation of the sixties and seventies in the West with its plethora of New Age movements rising from the multicultural compression of the emerging world culture, in a proliferation of spiritual groups whose radical therapeutic fringe mixed with an easternizing, semi-Theosophical character, proceeds by such a swift and grim law from the language of spiritual renewal to the commercialization of astrology, pseudo-yoga and channeling that one must wonder what happened. The question of world religion is crucial to our subject, but it is hard for standard historiography to get to the bottom of it, impossible in an age of Darwinism, and the history of India is especially interesting and difficult in this respect. Our discovery of the Shiva seal puts the whole question to the fore, and we have fulfilled our task, to a first approximation, by placing these issues in some relation to real historical evolution.
It is not our business to pass judgment on these movements, which constitute part of our eonic history, and which show a thriving realization (attempted) of spiritual democracy, but the amount of sheer drivel produced here is enough to completely paralyze the ‘spiritual paths’ of anyone who ventures here. It should be noted that the world historical significance of Indian religion is reflected in its entry into late modernism, just at our divide, as if to squeeze in on time, and its evaluation an important task of contemporary culture. Note that our eonic sequence never repeats itself, and the Indic stream bids fair to be cheated out of a future transition. But we see the reverse diffusion effect in the spread of modern technology and the Indic tradition starts to flood into modernity almost exactly at the modern divide. We can’t play favorites with our term ‘eonic determination’, but we can see that these traditions from the Axial Age are not going to get renewed treatment from our eonic mainline, which has already completed its business by the time of the divide. Or so our model suggests.
This helps explain the strange dilemma of the New Age movements we see. In any case a last phase of the Reformation seems to be the case, as the modern pluralistic omnibus picks up all passengers. Note how the seemingly odd ball Reformation does in fact show the factor of eonic determination and climaxes near the divide with the birth of such ideas as ‘rational theology’, as seen in Kant, or Hegel. Hegel was very clear on this point, that German philosophy was the endcap of the Reformation. And it is no accident that it tries to lift itself up by its bootstraps to ‘beat the competition’ by disgorging a sort of wild flower Upanishadic rabbit from the hat. But the result can’t really compete with the Indic strain, at least at first sight. But if we study the Kantian Dialectic carefully we see that the religions of antiquity fall into place around the antinomies of self, soul, divinity, with the idea of freedom appearing in concert. We have the clue. A great new ‘Freedom Sutra’ is struggling to be born, to integrate all the religions crowding for space in modernity.
That early entry of Indic religion, before the stampede of gurus, began with the generation of the Romantics, and figures such as Schlegel. And the critique from this perspective of the monotheistic traditions is also a significant liberation for the mass hypnosis macro-cults that haunt the Western tradition. But its legacy should be its own self-liberation into an age of spiritual democracy. In fact, despite his disavowals, the figure Schopenhauer is proof these issues were built into modernism at its foundations, so we need not apologize for introducing them. The West has its own confused and concealed Hermetic traditions, but little profit to the public comes from them, it would seem.
Beyond that the New Age shows one irony, that none of the great religions of antiquity are likely to survive in their current form. And yet Hinduism probably gestates in the Neolithic, so we should not predict. A host of gurus have said as much, and the point is hardly controversial. Beside the great religions, the great yogas, and their Sufi variants, are not always benign vehicles. Nor is the classic ashram adapted to needs of modern man. The clear evidence of Christian totalitarianism in the legacy of Constantine suppressing Gnostic cults was not benign either. The endless efforts to repackage antiquity go on and on, to no avail.
The modern Enlightenment is suddenly undervalued now, but its final task will be to rewrite the archaic sutras in a critical vein, a task not easily accomplished, and barely to be hoped for. The Enlightenment XE “Enlightenment, The:Buddhism and Reason” chord of Reason in history is taken as some degenerate vice by some, but was already visible in the streamlining of the ancient tradition in the great Gautama. We should certainly be open to a postmodern or yogic critique of reason, but too many, who could use a good scientific education, have wrecked a great thematic of history in the name of mystical idiocy. It is a false quarrel. Reason is the common carrier of historical man. Study the theology Luther was forced to deal with before renouncing the theme of Reason in History. If it can outperform, in the long run, the mystical confusions of self-styled prophets and sages, and it can, then it claims history, leaving the Buddhas to exit history, as wished.
The Enlightenment has been underrated by self-appointed wizards, but will sooner or later show a resurgent effort to evaluate this heritage of antiquity, whose decayed forms are proliferating at a rapid rate. Beside Hegel, a perfect example is the brilliant, if imperfect, formulation of Schopenhauer who automatically proceeds to resurrect these ancient questions (which are obviously latent in Kant). But these men were doing something quite different. Modernity has done its business by staging pluralism, and there these rival stains prosper as never before. What is the objection to modernity?
The problem is that horizontal history rarely produces a viable spiritual movement, and we notice the way the intersection of the ancient Indian stream with the Axial phase suddenly produces such a world religion. Let us note that the original Buddhism does not resemble anything by that name now, a good example being its rejection of vegetarianism.
The authority of gurus is bogus. They should be a controversial as calculus teachers, but somehow, due to a false mystique of pre-democratic ages, they have become an obstacle to development. There is no cosmic involution of spiritual men. Instead we see the bottom up bootstrap of autonomous freethinking men realizing their mysterious and latent evolutionary psychology. The point is clearer from something like the early Jain, or early Buddhist, traditions.
In any case, we can also see that this ferment of New Age religion is a delayed aspect of modernism and global diffusion. Note from our later model the fact that it occurs late in this rise and has no special status overriding modernist foundations. This is not the new Axial Age, nor are we likely to see a replication of the period creating a world religion like Buddhism or Christianity. It is thus worth noting again that the only period of Indian religion intersecting with our eonic effect is that of the Axial period, and the result was the creative ferment that gave birth to traditions such as the Buddhist, traditions as rich as that seen in the world of the parallel Greeks.
The relation of this to Hinduism is very complex, and few accurate histories exist. But this means that even the man of enlightenment is still bound in history, and that their efforts in and off themselves cannot master the problem of man’s evolution. One problem is that the period in question is beyond recovery or repetition and the various New Age movements suffer illusions of renewal where the actual result is soon moving in a tangent. The Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns XE “Battle of the Ancients and Moderns, The” recommences in a different form, and a global Reformation XE “Reformation, The:New Ages” moves to interact with the full scope and antiquity of the religion XE “religion:New Age movement” s of classical period. That New Age movements have had their opportunity to surpass modernity, yet are unable to do so, can be seen from the confusion created by Theosophy. And yet this movement contained a valid protest against the completely false view of man coming into existence in an age of positivism and Darwinism.
Madame Blavatsky’s baboon The modern secularist has only himself to blame for attempting to foist a ‘soul-less’ post-Cartesian positivism on the globalizing universal culture. The counterattack was swift, even as Huxley was debating Wilberforce, the Indian world starts launching a series of torpedoes to reset the balance. Darwinism was and is a standing joke in many minds.
But is Theosophy any better than Darwinism? The rapid appearance of a new metaphysics of ‘spiritual evolution’ in Blavatsky’s wake has produced still another field of confusion. But behind the carnival of Blavatsky’s ‘rubbish heap’ lay a serious effort to remind Westerners that the man in the Shiva seal existed before the rise of civilization, and that the deeper evolutionary psychology of man is hard pressed to survive into a scientific age. Such issues as reincarnation XE “reincarnation” , condemned as crackpot by Scientific Committees investigating the occult, are certainly not the simple one scientific psychology pretends it to be, and the ancient legacy is soon resurgent. The real and deeper issue is human autonomy and the threat to this in the realms of spiritual domination so strangely embraced by the Theosophical obsession with Himalayan masters. Never let the phantoms of the ‘Himalayan Masters’ control your unconscious.[i]
The New Age movement is thus likely to be the vehicle for conservative mystifications and restorations of the worst kind of false postmodernist traditionalism, including the regime of the imitation Hindu-style guru, to a receptive public eager for mysticism and unaware of the hegemonic nature of Brahmanism and the history of the Indian religion XE “religion:Indian religion from Buddha to Shankara” between Buddha and Shankara. This world is beautiful in itself, in spite of its historical shadows, and it is unfair to denounce as ‘gurus’ the modern crop of hucksters trotting down the road with this label.
Nonetheless, this recent movement, frequently excoriated, is of historical interest in its own right, and one whose issues and history deserve their own telling, beginning, not in the seventies, not in the nineteenth century, but in the wake of the first phase of global interaction, and the fascination of the philosophes with the arriving data of other cultures, such as the traditions of China XE “China” . The first achievement of modern culture is a pluralism that can yield a field of renewal to the manifold sources of antique spiritualities to find stowaway passage in modernity, near a technocratic Lord Jim.
The ‘self’ of man is a mystery not easily understood, and the recorded testimony of complex states of consciousness, however confused, makes Darwinism XE “Darwinism” a dead letter, with its complete absence of any definition of what an organism such as man might be. There are no simple answers here and the Indian tradition promptly equivocates the nature of self/no-self.
[i] Cf. Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon (New York: Schocken Books, 1994) for this phrase in relation to Blavatsky’s anti-Darwinism. In the United States, the ‘new aging’ process in its Orientalizing aspect comes as early as the Transcendentalists, already built into American tradition from the start. Cf. Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance (New York: Columbia, 1984), Carl Jackson, The Oriental Religions and American Thought, Nineteenth Century Explorations (Westport: Greenwood, 1981). A critical account is found in Robert Basil (ed.), Not Necessarily The New Age (New York: Prometheus, 1988). A manifesto, of sorts, for the movement was Marilyn Furgueson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy (New York: St. Martin’s, 1978). Martin Green, Prophets of a New Age (New York; Scribner’s, 1992). Peter Washington, in Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon, (New York: Schocken, 1995) paints a very dismal picture of some of the source groups of the New Age movement, beginning in the nineteenth century with Theosophy, and proceeding through many failures to Anthroposophy, the mystery of Krishnamurti, the school of Ouspensky, and the gangster brand of Nietzschean ‘Sufism’.