I have always been one of those people who believe they are in this world for a particular purpose. The poet Rumi said something along these lines: There is one thing that we all must do. If we do everything else but that one thing, we will be lost. And if we do nothing else but that one thing, we will have lived a glorious life. I feel as if these words were encoded in my DNA. I never cared if that one thing would be world-changing, such as discovering penicillin or leading people to freedom like Mahatma Gandhi. It could be modest, even invisible to others. I just wanted to find that one thing which I knew would make all the atoms of my being spin like whirling dervishes entering ecstasy. My whole life has been a treasure hunt whose chest of gold was this one thing.
The exquisite poet Mary Oliver wrote, “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began.” At 54 years of age, I finally knew what I had come here to do, and I have begun. Here is the genesis, the creation story, of Radical Sages, which is what I found in my treasure chest.
Up the mountain
It is important to say from the outset that I am a lifelong mystic, a person who is intensely interested in “the worthful aspects of reality –i ts values, meaning, and purpose…” to borrow Huston Smith’s phrase. Mysticism is concerned with the nature of mind, self, and reality; with issues of identity and transconceptual truth; it refers to an individual’s struggle to attain a clear vision of reality and the transformation of consciousness that accompanies such a vision. I write in my essay “If Not Me, Who? If Not Now, When?”:
When I was 11 years old, I had one of those epiphanies that shape one’s life in unexpected ways. In my case, I developed a restless soul that longed for missing pieces in the puzzle of living: Who am I? What is my purpose? How shall I live? A few years later I took to the road on a spiritual quest, traveling around the world in search of answers to my questions about life and living, reality and truth, meaning and purpose. I spent the next 25 years immersed in various non-dual wisdom traditions, including ten years of study with Swami Muktananda. During those years, I experienced awakenings, realizations, epiphanies, and transcendent bliss beyond the scope of words. One day, my search for existential clarity and wholeness came to an end atop a summit of eternal silence and pure being.
Radical Sages was conceived during these years of mountain climbing and summit living. My current perspective and opinions are the offspring of this search and rescue mission for my soul, as is my motivation for social renewal and political transformation.
I know that “eternal silence and pure being” sounds ethereal, even vague. Perhaps I can ground it a bit by saying I directly experienced my oneness with all of life and intuitively understood that love best describes the meaning and value of existence. If you stop and think about it, this is a common, maybe the most common, human experience. I will go so far as to say that this experience of unity in love with all things is the prerequisite for authentic human being. It connects us to others and to all of life. It bestows wisdom and humility, love and compassion, tolerance and understanding. From this full heart and mind and overflowing spirit, we behave in ways that are truthful and transparent, in service to all. I have travelled around the world and lived in many countries and cultures. I have not yet met a person who, after some discussion, could not reveal some similar epiphany.
In these same travels, I have come to see how diverse and varied are the ways in which people express this fundamental truth about our unity in love with all existence. In scores of religions and spiritual traditions–large and small, well-known and obscure–people have invented wildly and beautifully different theologies and cosmologies, scriptures and sacred songs, beliefs and commandments, rituals and prayers. They are meant as means to overcome self-centredness and limiting identities and perspectives, to uplift our moral and ethical character, to develop a feeling of unity with others, to realize one’s truest self and role in the great mystery of life.
Each, in its highest expression, will agree that the glittering centrepiece of spiritual achievement is the cultivation and embodiment of love and kindness. And yet, what should be blessings of diversity and tolerance are often tragedies of violence and oppression in which we use the emblems of our unity as weapons to separate, divide, and conquer. We have allowed the “three poisons” described by the Buddha–greed, hatred, and delusion–to overwhelm and obscure our innate unity in love with all things. We have deceived ourselves by darkening the refracted colours of the one light, turning them into harsh distinctions and angry differences. We have forgotten who we are, beneath the beliefs of separation and difference.
The core purpose of Radical Sages is to bring light to this darkness and remembrance to this forgetfulness, and to call forth the highest expression of our common humanity–unity in love with all things–as the medicine for healing our troubled world.
Down the mountain
Exploring the nature of mind, self, and reality often takes us into higher and subtler planes of existence, where we can lose touch with the physical world and the dramas of everyday life. Many religions and spiritual traditions place spiritual above material, creating a false hierarchy and pitting Soul against World in a struggle for supremacy. This misconception has helped to create the common stereotype of a mystic or sage as an aloof witness to the world. In fact, I was a poster boy for this image for 25 years.
But I have learned the greater purpose of inner spiritual work: to unite spiritual wisdom with committed action, to be passionate advocates for peace, freedom, and social justice–in the world.
In “Little Gidding,” T. S. Eliot writes, “The end is where we start from.” I came to one end, only to find myself at another, wholly unexpected, beginning. I started a new life in which another restless spirit began moving through my fullness and wholeness. I experienced a new passion and deep hunger to fully engage the world around me, the world I had neglected during years of inward-focused meditation. This world, from which I had sought to escape, had become beautiful, enchanting, and compelling. This wondrous world — full of complexity, chaos, and contradiction — is all the proof one needs of transcendent spirit and mystery. I’ve discovered this world is my world; I belong to it and it belongs to me. This world is my body, and my body is this world.
This awakening to the practical implications of “oneness” was a long time coming for me. I was addicted to self-transcendence, to a kind of medicated meditative lifestyle in which I allowed my feeling for the world–my caring and passion and enthusiasm for life and for living–to be numbed by too much witnessing and watching, and not enough acting. Not enough loving.
In a series of experiences, which I won’t recount here, I came to a true unity with life, a unity in which dissociative tendencies and emotional neutrality disappeared. I realized I had never been separate or estranged from the source of life and consciousness. It seemed then, as it does now, that the greatest truth and the highest expression of our common humanity is to embody and consciously demonstrate our unity in love. It took me a long time to understand Dr. Smith’s pithy pronouncement, “The goal is not altered states, but altered traits.”
In the valley
Shortly after my teacher, with whom I had studied for 10 years, died in 1982, I began to make my own way in the world, trying to live as a mystic in a materialistic world. Through a series of seeming serendipitous events, I became a leadership coach and consultant. My clients were mainly senior executives in corporations. My role as a “clarity coach” was to enhance their awareness of themselves and their relationships, and to improve their leadership and communication skills. I enjoyed my work, and yet I felt a malaise within my true heart. Something was out of kilter with either the what or the how of my work, because I was leaking life force. I was becoming spiritually depressed. I did what I always do when feeling blocked, conflicted, or out of alignment: I went inward. I went on a week-long vision quest in Mexico to meet with silence, my word for that inner knowing about which Mahatma Gandhi said, “The only tyrant I accept in the world is the still small voice within me.”
On the fourth day of meditation, the unmistakable voice of silence spoke wordlessly and unequivocally: Teach the mysticism you know to leaders. My initial reaction was terror; 15 years ago words like “spirit” and “soul” had barely found their way into the business lexicon, let alone a word like mysticism! I felt this would be too hard and that I would die of ridicule and starvation. Do it, said the voice, and you will be guided. It is your path. Teach the essence of hamsa to world leaders. Don’t worry.
Hamsa is a Sanskrit word which means “supreme transcendent wisdom.” Hamsa is a mantra that signifies our unity with that consciousness which pervades every atom of this universe and connects all living beings. I was supposed to talk in corporate boardrooms about this? I knew that I would be required to encounter my every fear, insecurity, doubt, and pretense.
Returning from Mexico, I founded the Hamsa Institute. A few weeks later, I delivered a talk, agreed upon before my trip, to the legal affairs department of a billion dollar pharmaceutical company. As I was unpacking my briefcase, the head of the department asked for my card. Returning to his seat, he looked at it, now with the word hamsa on it, and asked, “What the hell does hamsa mean?”
This is it, I thought. They’re going to throw me out on my ass. I actually began putting my notes back in my briefcase. “Hamsa,” I said, “means supreme, transcendent wisdom.” The attorney’s face tensed and his head fell forward into his hands. He shook his head from side to side. I closed my briefcase and prepared to leave. He looked up.
“My God,” he sighed, “do we ever need some of that around here.” Thus encouraged, I spent the next decade instigating conversations about spirit, soul, and wisdom with corporate clients.
Then came the shattering morning of 9/11/01. It was as if the planes had crashed into my soul, leaving it wrecked, sad, and sorrowful. In response, I wrote “A Call for Peace,” giving voice to my grief and my hope for a response from our government that would not precipitate more violence and destruction. A deeper awareness of the connection between spiritual awareness and social events opened within me. I began writing more articles of a “political” nature. I was dismayed at the militaristic responses of America, saddened that the wise legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi went unheeded. During our bombardment of Baghdad, I felt as if the missiles were exploding in my own body. Suddenly, my every cell awoke to the true meaning of what I had first learned decades ago in India: tat tvam asi, Thou Art That–all of existence is connected. Every spasm of violence, each shattered life and moments of horror were happening inside me. It was not something I could hide from or ignore. My being, my body, had grown as big as the world.
I was taken by an urgency to heal the pain “out there: in the same way I had, years before, sought to heal inner, personal pain.
I began to write and speak about engaged spirituality, about taking responsibility for the condition of our world and carrying spiritual wisdom from the meditation halls into the world. I realized that we risk a kind of social apathy in our search for personal enlightenment. It can be quite hip in spiritual circles to seem to be the lotus rising above the mud, even though the lotus needs the muddy water in order to live!
My new beginning is summed up in these words from kabbalah: “First we receive the light, then we impart it. Thus we repair the world.” Imparting the light requires great things of us: authenticity, honesty, courage, determination, empathy, personal responsibility, and commitment. Repairing the world requires that we add responsibility to realization, caring to love, and action to insight.
I wrote an article in 2003 that received worldwide distribution through the internet, “Mr. Bush: I’m Coming for You.” I received hundreds of emails in support, but one in particular touched my core. He wrote: What are you going to do?
A few months later, I had my answer: TruthForPresident.org, a newswire whose purpose was to elevate the political dialogue and consciousness in this country. I wanted to influence the coverage of the national media, to inspire the American public, to spotlight people, policies, and events that would help renew our world through principles of universal wisdom. I distributed dozens of under-reported stories and editorials to the national news media, political policy makers, and cultural thought leaders. That project morphed to include an online spiritual activism resource, whose purpose was to inspire and mobilize yoga, meditation, and spiritual communities to participate in the electoral process.
I thought TruthForPresident would last seven months, from its March 2004 launch through the presidential election. I was wrong. The task of renewing society to reflect the heart of wisdom is not an election year project: it is a lifelong project.
We need nothing less than a gargantuan, spirit-based, wisdom-infused holy mass of activist leaders to elevate the social and political dialogue and consciousness in America, and to influence all aspects of cultural life and public policy legislation.
Which brings us knocking on the front door of Radical Sages… an evolution of spiritual action.
I cannot more succinctly define the cause of personal, interpersonal, and planetary confusion, sadness, and mayhem than the 15th century Indian mystic and poet, Kabir:
We sense that there is some sort of spirit that loves birds and animals and the ants–perhaps the same one who gave a radiance to you in your mother’s womb. Is it logical you would be walking around entirely orphaned now? The truth is you turned away yourself, and decided to go into the dark alone. You have forgotten what you once knew, and that’s why everything you do has some weird failure in it.
Weird failures are proliferating at a fearsome rate. The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, “The crisis is not out there in the world; it is in our own consciousness.” It is self-evident that the outer, cultural world in which we live is a direct manifestation of our inner world of beliefs, attitudes, and values–all of which determine and drive our actions. Consider this astounding information from Dr. Helen Caldicott, in her 2002 book, The New Nuclear Danger:
Globally, the annual military expenditure stands at 780 billion dollars. The total amount required to provide global health care, eliminate starvation and malnutrition, provide clean water and shelter for all, remove land mines, eliminate nuclear weapons, stop deforestation, prevent global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain, retire the paralyzing debt of developing nations, prevent soil erosion, produce safe, clean energy, stop overpopulation, and eliminate illiteracy is only one third that amount — 237.5 billion dollars.
Is this not a weird failure? Is this not a horrific indictment of our collective consciousness? Albert Einstein tells us, “We cannot solve the problems of the world from the same level of consciousness that created them.”
We are now and urgently called by our past actions to raise our consciousness, to expand our awareness, to elevate our humanity — one by one and all together. We have no choice but to remember what we once knew: to remember our essential unity in love with each other and with all of creation. We have no choice but to rainmake a monsoon of wisdom and love to flood the world.
The crux of wisdom is the experience of oneness. It is the most salient fact of the mystical experience and it is universally true. We each exist as expressions of the same fundamental reality. We are each unique expressions, yes, but of the same essence. We all belong to the same family. My blood is the same as yours, my heart is the same as yours, my body is the same as yours. We seem to stand apart from each other, but our essence is one. We seem to be different, but we are all parts of a whole. The one truth that the wisdom-keepers of the world teach is that the entire universe is a living manifestation of love. They mean that this visible, physical world is a flower whose invisible roots of love reach all the way to the center of the universe, and back again, winding around and through everything, a moving, flowing root system — like a current — warm and alive, nourishing all that lives. However much the sages of the world may disagree on certain matters, whatever their various names and descriptions for God, in spite of their contrasting stories and myths of creation — on this point they all agree: The highest knowledge, the greatest enlightenment, the supreme achievement of the human spirit is contained in this one truth: Love. Love is the very soul of existence. To know this, to speak this, to live this is to embody universal truth.
Naturally, whatever any one part does touches and affects the whole. We are wrong to think that we do not affect the whole. Every thought, every word, every slight touch of our hand sends energetic impulses racing outward on the trillions of strands of connective tissue that enfolds us all in the One. Whatever we do to ourselves, we do to each other as each action is a stone thrown into the pond of our common existence. Within minutes, or hours, or days we will feel the ripples of our actions wash over everything. This is why we cannot war our way to peace, because the killing keeps coming back. We have to wage peace, not war. And then peace will keep coming back.
The purpose of life is to realize, consciously, that we are the embodiments of love. We all know this. Though we may have forgotten or ignored it, what we once knew can be known again, right now. We have only to enter our heart to remember who we are.
I entered my heart, and I remembered what I once knew. I saw the light and felt the peace of each thing. And love, such love, the kind of love that dissolves all fear and separation and anger poured in from some invisible place. The kind of love that fills us with forgiveness and peace and compassion. The kind of love that turns us into lovers of the beauty and mystery of life, worshipers of the indomitable light and presence of the creative source of the universe.
Every human being wants to touch and taste the same happiness, the same goodness. And so we are all joined together, we are all as one in our desire for happiness and wholeness and love. This is ours, from the beginning. This is what I remember, this is what I know, this is what my heart teaches me: all things are sacred; do not harm or kill others; do not pollute natural beauty.
Love created this universe and it is the nourishing nectar of all creation. Love is heart and pulse, yes; but love is tendon, too, in that it binds all existence together into one body. All of creation comes from love, is sustained by love, and returns to love.
As the embodiments of love, how shall we live? What shall we do and what shall we not do? How shall we demonstrate what we know, deep in our heart? How are we to make visible in this world what moves silently within us all?
There is pain in the world. There is violence and war, despair and hopelessness, poverty and hunger, oppression and fear, pollution and degradation. Things are very unstable. We have to work together to make this situation better. We have to stabilize and beautify the world. It is the work we are meant to do.
The world is begging to be healed of violence, brutality, and greed. Let this be our project. We cannot use our spirituality as a shield from social life and responsibility, nor be afraid to put our spiritual hands into the earth of committed action for social change. We cannot let national identities, religious dogma, or political ideology corrupt the higher knowing of our heart. Can we rise above the self-created tyrannies of our times–nationalism, racism, militarism, sexism, corporatism–to establish just societies in which all people, indeed all living creatures and the Earth herself, may live in harmony and peace?
Let us come together as one and work with our whole being, with all our power, beauty, and tenderness; with all our heart, strength, and resolve. Let us start now, right now, this very minute, to heal our world.
Radical Sages see inner spiritual work and transformational social action as inseparable. We understand that wisdom is both insight and action. We know that just as a flower is not separate from its fragrance, the inner and outer worlds are not separate. We cannot have inner freedom if there is no freedom in the world. We cannot have inner peace if there is no peace in the world. We cannot have inner love if there is no love in the world.
- Radical Sages consciously actualize their inner knowing and most sacred values in real and telling ways.
- Radical Sages participate wholeheartedly in social and political life: they embody wisdom and compassion while acting with strength, purpose, and resolve.
- Radical Sages express universal wisdom as passionate advocates for peace, freedom, and social justice–for all people. Our philosophy of universal wisdom is rooted in the awareness that all life is sacred and shares a common essence; and that all people desire and are entitled to a life of freedom and dignity, peace and well-being, social justice and generosity, love and kindness.
- Radical Sages’ vision of social and political renewal is a natural expression of experiencing our unity in love with all of creation.
What we do now, individually and collectively, will lead our world down one path or another. Our every thought, word, and action holds the power to create or destroy. In the simplest of terms, our choices are between the paths of war and peace, between violence and nonviolence, between hatred and understanding, between fear and love, between retribution and reconciliation, between aggression and restraint. We must aspire to greatness. The stakes have never been higher, and we have no margin for error. Let us remember that this world belongs to us, the people, not to governments, corporations, or special interest groups; and we must exercise our full right of ownership with our very best self and highest wisdom.
The French novelist Emile Zola once said, “If you ask me why I came to this Earth, I’ll tell you: I came to live out loud.” So, it turns out, have I.
I urge you to shout at the top of your lungs the pure truth of your heart, to let the highest expression of your human being roar throughout the land and reverberate throughout the world. “Every community,” said civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, “needs a group of angelic troublemakers.” I invite you to participate in this global evolution of spiritual action.
I invite you to be a Radical Sage.
Robert Rabbin is a San Francisco-based writer and speaker. He is the author of numerous books and articles, and the founder of Radical Sages, an online hub of global spiritual activism. For more more information, please visit www.radicalsages.com.
Image credit: Vinayak