Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
While I was working on my last piece, about the onset of a wave of fear of dying, I paused to check a news site, and caught one of the first items on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. I tried to work this into my piece as a kind of counterpoint, but comparing myself to one of the finest actors of the last 20 years seemed a bit of a stretch, and I dropped it.
What I did find myself reflecting on was his portrayal of Lancaster Dodd, his almost-L. Ron Hubbard in 2012’s The Master. This was the last of his movies I’d seen, and while the character he depicted was rather different to Hubbard, the film did catch, among many other things, the ambivalence the modern western world has to spiritual exploration. To stray outside easily verified assumptions is to invite condemnation. A lot of online information on the various teachers is about their human sides, as if these should have ceased to exist.
It used to be that actresses complained they had to play virgins, whores, or mothers, with only the occasional Meryl Streep or Maggie Smith finding roles of greater weight for herself; I suggest that we still have similar attitudes toward our gurus and psychopomps. Either they were (essentially) flawless saints, or they were frauds.
This is a critical point for Thelemites, whose Magus was a bag of seeming contradictions. The point he was trying to make – that nothing human, including and especially our ‘animal’ nature, is outside the pale of our spirituality – is one that’s taking time to sink in. The old Christian insistence on the separation of spirit and flesh is still the prevailing paradigm, and it even affects many people drawn to Thelema. I’m still surprised by how often someone who professes interest in The Book of the Law asks about Crowley’s sexual behaviour, as if making love or having random consensual sex with other people was still a bit shameful or dirty; or at least outside his job description in some way. Or, they assume that his partners weren’t consenting, an objection frequently applied to the fully consensual sado-masochistic relationship he had with Victor Neuberg. It wouldn’t have been masochistic of Victor if he’d said, “Oh, yes please Aleister!” but many people don’t have the imagination to take it past that (non)problem.
A few years ago, the Buddhist world was dealing with this, in the careers of Roshi Baker, Dennis Genpo Merzel and Joshu Sasaki. Sasaki in particular seems a worrying case, since he used his prestige and authority to coerce sexual contact with female students. In other cases, the power issues are murkier, and the students may have engaged willingly in affairs.
Then there was Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan guru who regularly had sex with students. Or Jiddu Krishnamurti, mentioned in my last post, who had long-term relationships with one or two of his female followers. And there was a lot of ‘shocked and appalled’ reaction to the revelation that Eli Jaxon Bear, husband of the yoga teacher Gangaji (she of many Youtube videos, which I recommend) had enjoyed a long-term affair with his own student. But here we’re back in the realm of the consensual, albeit with the hovering question of what comprises consent in a teacher-student relationship. And to go back to my original point, we have a situation where the traditional strict celibacy of conservative Asian traditions has confronted a greater degree of sexual freedom of choice in the west.
The prevalence of such a shift should, we might think, change public perceptions of spiritual teachers. They might have opened up all seven chakras, but they still inhabit mortal bodies with physical appetites. And it’s undeniable that people of both sexes are attracted to their teachers. The problem usually arises when the teacher holds him or herself unavailable for a monogamous relationship, or simply wants or needs to move on. The transpersonal becomes the messy.
All very human stuff. Gurus are human – that’s how they know how to teach us. Crowley’s message, in part, is about accepting, affirming and celebrating this. There are no more saints who are above the rest of us. The only attained ones are like the rest of us, only they have realised the essence of their beings amid the human needs, desires and foibles.
We still need discrimination. My Temple’s inherited practice holds that newcomers should be allowed time to settle their affiliation, and establishing intimate relationships disrupts that. Beyond that initial phase, people need to accept responsibility for themselves, and make their own calls.
The aim, for us as for spiritual seekers across the board, is to move on from the type of teaching situation Sasaki perpetuated – “I know, and you need to acquiesce in order to know as well” – and to awaken the discriminating consciousness in the student. Teachers are not just useful, they’re essential. But they first need to be their authentic human selves, or what they offer isn’t worth much.
Love is the law, love under will,